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. If you're sensitive to anything of this nature, I'd recommend giving this story a miss, but if it sounds like your jam, I hope you enjoy! Jem :)
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14. Blindness

I wake up in the embrace of sunlight, my nightgown ripped at the knee and my legs peppered with thorns. As I drag myself to my feet, I taste the dryness of my mouth, the sickening, raw stench at the back of my throat. I wonder if I’m going to die, if I poisoned myself last night. For the first hour or so I wander, even though I’m once again perfectly capable of running. After that, I start to get hysterical, suddenly frightened I’ll die of starvation or thirst before I find my way home, and run. A couple of times I think I see a bush I recognise. Turns out, all bushes look the same or I’m walking around in circles. I start to cry- can’t explain why, don’t really want to. I want somebody to find me and sweep me up into their arms, hug me, tell me it’s okay, for once. I don’t know who. Probably a complete stranger. As the day wears endlessly on and on and on, I grow hungrier and hungrier and hungrier till I’m fruitlessly grabbing at the birds that land on the branches around me. My thirst is finally quenched by the appearance of a muddy yellow pond and, apparently, the disappearance of the last scraps of my pride. There’s a toad sitting on a lily-pad about two feet from the bank. I nearly fall in trying to grab it. I hiss. Then, I look up and realise the sky’s bruising purple and yellow with dusk, the clouds lighting up pink. I only see shreds of it through the black canopy of bare branches. Only now, as the wind picks up and the rain starts to spit again, do I start to feel cold.

On my second night in the forest, I sit, shivering, with my back up against a tree trunk, waiting to be caught and devoured by vampires or werewolves. I wish they’d just get on with it. I don’t go to sleep, but I don’t get up the moment dawn starts seeping into the sky. I wait till it’s fully light. Dawn turns into morning. Morning turns into noon, the white coin of the sun suspended in the ugly blue sky, the bite of the cold softening on my bare skin. Then, I suddenly stop. I heard something.

Then, it comes again: the soft, low rumble of voices.

“Hell… Hello?” I croak. There’s no response. I listen to the sounds, trying to make out words, but I can’t hear any- I start to think it’s the wind, or perhaps a hive of bees. Then, as I carry on walking, the mumbling gets a little louder, wavering in pitch and warmth, like multiple voices. I listen for a while, attempting to orientate myself, and then, once I’m sure I know which direction they’re coming from, I begin to follow. As they get louder, I start to pick up my pace, the wind grabbing at my hair, the ground grabbing at my ankles. I run, until I see something in the clearing up ahead. Something black. Something moving.

If prompted, I think I could create a fairly extensive list of things I’d expect to find in a forest. Trees. Sky. Mud. Plants. Ponds and lakes. Dead leaves, orange and yellow and claret but mostly brown.

Groups of men in black cloaks aren’t on that list, but for whatever reason, when I see them, I’m not surprised.

I start back and stare- they’re huddled in a solid dark mass, and I don’t realise they’re people until I spot a white hand. Then, a splash of red hair. I still can’t hear what they’re saying- just that low rumbling, and the occasional hissing sound. Instead of running, I instead feel an overwhelming urge to approach them. Instead, I force myself to hide. I hurry behind a tree and crouch so the rest of me is obscured by a bush- I nearly trip, and curse when my foot hits yet another thorn bush, but I haven’t been spotted yet.

As I watch them, and as they continue to mutter in their huddle, I let my mind drift. I wonder where I am- where we are. I’m completely and utterly lost- could be in Scotland or Cornwall by now, wouldn’t have any idea. I have no idea which way I came, or which way to go to find my house again. I know I don’t want to go back, but perhaps I want to be found and dragged back. I know I’m going to die out here, and for some reason, I don’t much care. In theory, finding this group of people is a godsend- they might be able to show me the way out. In practice, though, I’m suspicious. The moment I saw them, my mind jumped to vampires, thanks to Catty’s stories and my own bizarre unquenched fears, but they could be a religious sect, bandits, rapists, kidnappers, murderers. Devil-worshippers. What well-meaning citizen would spend their time in the woods wearing a black cloak? None. They’re bad news, whether they’re vampires or not. Vampires? Vampires. I have to admit to myself, as I crouch in the dirty undergrowth, deep down, I do think they’re vampires.

If I get up, they’ll see me.

Boom. Instant death.

Easy as that.

Is it strange how easily I accept that? It doesn’t seem so to me. Throughout the past couple of days I’ve been thinking on what Catty said- about the rumours, the missing people. I believe in God and demons- why not vampires? I watch them; they’re still huddled in a circle. Then, their voices seem to rise and rise until they cut off, and the group separates. The first man I see fully is tall and handsome, with a broad face, a slight beard, and red hair. The second is small and ferret-like, with a pointed chin and a greasy yellow-blond ponytail. I stop, ducking lower in the bush to avoid being seen. They don’t look dangerous at all- just a group of idiots from the town in black capes. Then, as I count them- one, two, three, four, five, six- I realise something. They are just a group of idiots from the town in black capes. The handsome redhead, and another- a tall thin dark-haired man with a large mole above one eyebrow- are the only two I don’t vaguely recognise. The small ferret-like blonde man is the one whose face attracts me first. I remember him from a party. I have a memory of him in a powder-blue three-piece suit, smiling, and drinking a lot. Then, desperation surges through me in a torrent as his name comes back into my mind.

Richard Gregory. Father’s work partner.

He and his hunting party went missing in the forest last week.

I clamp my hand over my mouth, sinking lower into the bush as I watch them. Yes, yes… vampires. If not, criminals. Monsters. Real monsters. I should be afraid. Since I’m a woman, I suppose I ought to be hysterical. I ought, at least, to be running, but I’ve had enough of running.

I lick my teeth.

I want to get up.

I imagine being a vampire, even as I lie there knowing full well I’m a fool. I imagine eternal life, ethereal beauty- even though most of these greasy men don’t look particularly beautiful- and all that monstrous power. I imagine going back to my father like that- like them.

I already accepted death, long ago, and feared weakness. I’m hopelessly lost in this forest if nothing else.

May as well.

I watch them for a while longer, trying to figure out what they’re doing- I suppose I’m searching for candles, coffins, altars, tied-up sacrifices. Nothing. They’re just… standing around, doing nothing. They’re not even talking anymore. They’re not acting like vicious predators, or even lowly criminals. I duck lower in the bush as one of the men- an older gentleman with a brown beard and short-cropped hair- walks over to me. He doesn’t see me- he just sinks to the ground and sits, one arm hung over his knee. I raise one eyebrow.

“When are we going to kill, then?” He asks the empty air. I freeze, cold bleeding through me and sickening me to the bone.

There’s no response.

“Be quiet, David.” The redhead says eventually.

There are a few more minutes of silence. I try to talk myself out of standing up, but I can’t quite do it. Then, suddenly, I’m on my feet.

The tall black-haired man, sitting on the opposite side of the clearing, is the first to see me. His eyes widen. And then, I say:

“Hello! Nice to meet you. I’ve been watching you for a little while- not too long. Just long enough to wonder whether you’re vampires, or just very, very bored of a Sunday afternoon.”

Idiot. Cocky. Why?

My first word triggers six heads snapping towards me. The rest are shouted through a tidal wave of exclamations as all six men jump to attention. Then, they’re running for me, and the dumb smile drops from my face as it finally catches up to me they’re going to kill me.

I don’t run. I don’t even try. “Seize her!” The handsome redhead yells, and strong hands wrap around my arms, forcing me to the ground. Oh, well. It was a good life. No- wait. That’s a lie. It was awful. All the better time to die.

The redhead shouts: “No!” and the chaos around me stills.

Silence.

I look up, cracking open an eye. The redhead is standing over me, looking down at me with shock and confusion. I leer at him, even though my heart’s pounding.

“Just kill me.” I say. “I asked for it.”

He raises an eyebrow. “No.”

One of the men behind me speaks. “But-”

“You heard me, Zagan. Away with them.”

There’s that sound again- the sharp hiss, like water. Then, an angry sigh. Then, I realise it was one of the men making that sound. A hiss. Wow. They are serious vampires. And away with them… I imagine claws and fangs and I shiver. Is this really happening?

“But…”

“Restrain yourselves!”

In the silence, I say to the ground: “Why the restraint?”

“Who are you? How did you find us?”

“Why the restraint?” I repeat, my voice goading. Why am I frustrated they’re not killing me? “You’re monsters, are you not?”

I look up at him, still held down by five pairs of hands. Most on my arms, one on my head, another curled into the hair at my nape. Freezing cold hands. I raise an eyebrow, reckless fear making me feel even cockier.

“Are you vampires or not?” I say.

“We could be monsters.” The redhead says. “We aren’t. We choose not to be.”

“Why?” I ask. Someone behind me shakes me, but I crane over my shoulder and snarl at him.

“Who are you?” The redhead asks again. “How did you find us?”

“Geoffrey, just kill her!”

“Be quiet!”

“She found us-”

“Be quiet!”

“Yes, just kill me, Geoffrey.” I add.

“I will. But first, I need to know-”

“I recognise her.”

I look over my shoulder. The surprisingly quiet voice comes from Richard, of course, with his ugly blond hair and little dark eyes. He looks from me to the redhead- Geoffrey.

“You do?” Geoffrey says to him. I glare up at the sky.

“Yes. She’s Henry Lansfield’s daughter!” Richard’s voice is full of shock. I look back up at Geoffrey, curling my lip at him. “She’s the daughter of the Lord of the bloody manor!”

As Geoffrey looks back at me, in my shredded, soaked nightgown, with my bedraggled hair and filthy blackened face, I bare my teeth at him. The sudden appearance of gentleness in his eyes makes me feel sick.

“My name is Mary-Ann.” I say.

She’s the Lansfields’ daughter?” Geoffrey says with distaste to the men behind me.

“Yes-”

“Yes, I am. And I have a name.”

“What are you doing this deep in the woods, little lady?”

I spit on him. To my surprise, he smiles a little.

“She’s got fight.”

“Damn right I’ve got fight! Why haven’t you killed me? What kind of vampires are you?”

“What is she doing out here?” Someone behind me says.

“I’m lost.” I snarl, without turning to face the speaker. “What’s it to you?”

“How on earth did you get into this state?” Geoffrey says. Suddenly, I start as I feel his hand crawling up my thigh and spit on him again. He lets go, but then plants two fingers under my chin, tilting my head up. “Why are you covered in blood? What have you done, little lady?”

“I’m…” I purse my lips, determined not to die broken, as I remember everything that happened to me two nights ago. “I’m a monster too.”

There’s a silence.

I suddenly realise how badly I want to be a vampire. I want to be a monster, wholly, completely, truly. I want to punish my father by becoming his worst fear. I want to shock him, disgust him, frighten him, make him regret. And not just him. The whole world. I want power in my veins, and before this day I had no idea how I was going to get it. I know nothing of this group, but I don’t care what happens to me now. I have nothing to lose at all. Nothing.

“If I am right...” I say. “And you are vampires, turn me. Make me a vampire.”

They all laugh, but I don’t burn with shame, nor do I break my focus to snarl or yell at them. I look up at Geoffrey.

“Make me a vampire.” I say again.

He curls his lip. “No.”

“Can we kill her now?” A nasal voice whines.

He shrugs. “Yes, I suppose.”

I yelp as their grips grow tighter and I’m forced up onto my feet. I snarl and try to pull my arms back, but they hold me, and hands start to snatching at my hair. My blood grows hot and acidic with panic. “I’m the daughter of nobility!” I say. “My father’s richer than the mad King! He’d pay a pretty penny for me! I can get you money! I can get you whatever you want!”

There’s a pause. Someone’s arm is clenched around my throat, but Geoffrey holds up his hand and they stop scrabbling at me.

“You couldn’t steal from your father, little lady.” He says. “You’re useless to us. We don’t make deals with women. Or with mortals, for that matter. Just kill her.”

There’s a surging in the air around me, a further tightening of grips on me, but in that split-second, I growl and roar: “I’m no lady! I’m the worst Goddamned lady this country’s ever seen! You want a monster? I may be only seventeen, but I’m already ten times the monster you are! I want this. Please, I want this. Please.” I growl as the hand around my throat tightens. “I’ll do anything! Make you a deal. Spare me. Be smart.”

There’s a pause. I was right. They’re not monsters. They’re cowards. Monsters would’ve killed me already. If I was like them I’d kill without mercy, without hesitation.

“Geoffrey, she’s one of the richest people in the country.”

“She’s a woman.”

There’s another long silence.

Then, “Exactly.”

The word sends hideous clammy shivers down my spine, but, with my arms held out wide by the other vampires, I press my mouth in agreement and stare at Geoffrey. He seems closer to me suddenly, his sculpted lips pressed tight and his finger held to his chin. His watery green eyes are now infected with some sick lecherous look, and his mouth with a smile. I watch as he runs his gaze over my body and his thoughts tumble out of those eyes, clear as if they were written across his face. My stomach squeezes, but I force myself to take hold of this miniscule chance.

I lick my lips. Even smile.

“Turn me.” I say, my voice bolder than I feel.

He curls his lip, and a pulse of excitement jumps through me as I see the square gap in his teeth.

Then, he says: “No.”

I bare my teeth at him in fury. Instead of dropping, his smirk grows wider. Then, I shudder anew as his fingers crawl up over the back of my hand and slide up my arm. I don’t dare slap him away. If he sees the discomfort on my face, he says nothing.

Suddenly, his grip around my arm tightens as he waves his other hand, looking over my shoulder at the rest of the men.

“Release her.” He says.

I stare at him, sinking a few inches as ten hands reluctantly leave my body. Geoffrey is still gripping my wrist- of course he is. Wouldn’t want me to run away, would he?

The look on his face makes my heart beat faster.

He’s not going to kill me, nor is he going to let me go.

“Are you truly vampires?” I ask him.

He doesn’t answer. He, instead, stares at me closely, studying my face. I shudder as his lecherous gaze slides across my skin. What could he want? Whatever he wants, I will not give it to him unless he gives me what I want in return.

“Are you truly…” He says, slowly. “Daughter of nobility?”

“Yes.” I say, as calmly as I can manage.

“She is, Geoffrey.” Richard’s voice pipes up from behind us.

“Shut up, Richard.”

“Geoffrey, just kill her.” Someone else says.

“Be quiet!”

“But-”

“Be QUIET!” He roars, making all of us jump. The peanut gallery shuts up. I can’t see them, but I believe only I am unafraid enough to look him in the eye.

“Geoffrey, see sense.” A voice from behind me says after a small pause. He isn’t interrupted, so he continues, but as he talks, Geoffrey’s gaze on me twists in anger. “The bitch discovered us. Let her go and she may tell the whole world.”

“We can use her.” Geoffrey says.

“Use her? She is more use to us dead. Please. We’re all hungry.”

I shiver.

“You’ll wait. You’ll restrain yourselves.”

“But why?”

“Because I will KILL you if you don’t comply!” Geoffrey bellows, immediately burying his head in one hand. He looks back at me.

“Why the mercy?” I say, my voice choked flat.

He stares at me for a long time.

“Make no mistake, Miss Lansfield.” He says softly. “One wrong move and we would all gladly kill you without a second thought.”

“Seems to me you’ve had several thoughts about it.”

Suddenly, his hand is at my throat, and I widen my eyes, sure I’ve talked my way into the grave at long last, until I feel his thumb stroking my jawline.

“Too much chatter and we’ll cut your pretty throat.” He says, his breath rancid against my cheek. I wince. “Try to escape? We cut your pretty throat. Struggle and we cut it. And if you tell a soul after your release? Guess what?”

I roll my eyes up, swallowing hard against his grip. “We all have a tea party?”

“We CUT your throat, little lady!” He shouts, shoving me back from him, his hand still around my wrist. “So you’d better be quiet and do exactly as we say, when we say it. You are at our mercy; you have no leverage. You are our prisoner.”

“Prisoner?” I croak.

“Yes.” There it is again- the age-old up-and-down look over my body. “I intend to hold you to ransom, Miss Lansfield.”

I breathe in, shakily.

“Ransom?” I say, the word ugly in my mouth.

“For money?” Someone behind me says.

“Yes, for money, you dumb brick.” Geoffrey tells him. He turns back to me. “We’ve tired of living in these woods, and your father can give us a comfortable life.” There’s a hearty chuckle from behind us. “We’ll send your father a letter telling him we have you, and demand thousands for your safe return.”

Something in the way he says safe return curdles my blood. It sounds, somehow, like a lie. After all, if they do get their payment, they’ll have no further reason to keep me alive, will they?

“I- I can get you the money.” I say, the first tendrils of panic starting to rise into my throat. “You don’t have to write to my father. I can go back. I can steal it from his study.”

“But why would you do that?” He smiles, gripping my wrist tighter, stepping a little closer to me. “And why would we trust you to do that?”

“What do you mean?”

“The moment you’re at home you’ll be safe from us.”

“Oh, is that so?” I growl. “Well, just know I’d rather be with you, dead or alive, than back home. It’s likely the moment I step back into that house my father will kill me for you.”

He stares down at me, confused.

“Yes,” I say. “He would never pay for my return. In fact, he would pay you to keep me. To kill me. He might have gladly paid you to kidnap me in the first place. He is very good at projecting a public image. But really, we detest one another. I would gladly destroy his life. I would gladly steal from him, in return…” I lick my lips. “For something.”

Geoffrey laughs. “And what could you possibly want from us?”

“You know what.” I say, breathing in. I could say let me go, but that’s not what I want- I feel what I do want, electric, hungry, in my veins. “To become one of you.”

“Of course.” Geoffrey runs his other hand across my cheek and into my hair. I resist the urge to bite at his fingers and instead stand rigid. “But we cannot and will not grant you that wish. Your incentive, Mary-Ann, is that if you’re extraordinarily lucky, you will live to see the next sunrise. You’re our prisoner. Not our equal or co-conspirator. Never.”

I growl, but the growl is cut short by a yelp as he tightens his grip on my hair and forces me back into the waiting crowd. Safe return, he said. I grit my teeth. I do not believe he is a man of his word. But I am, once again, powerless to his will. All I can do is wait, I suppose- wait for my father’s response.

It will be interesting, to say the least.

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