Sharing free stories and my illustrations was something that started with Gaiman's idea for All Hallow's Read, and now I'm going to move it to Christmas, too. It's a grand holiday. And it was a writer, Dickens, who changed how we celebrated it forever.
So, here is my holiday short story involving milk, blood, vampires, snow, and the voice we have that tells us to fight back and survive.
Happy holidays and merry everything to you, and those you love.
The Noise Underground Will Drown It
There was a mechanical whirring, a rough sound of the ancient gears of the mixer that could be heard close to the feeding station.
It didn’t have to be that loud. Thamer had once observed in the chamber that the noise was suddenly subdued because an attendant had a headache in the next room.
The machine was loud because it could drown out thoughts. Nothing existed in the feeding room except the impressively shiny medical table, bought from the humans in the medical district, and the machine designed to mix blood with nutritional gruel.
Thamer’s ears hurt as she was escorted into the chamber, she was strapped by every limb into place by a vampire. The full-blood was a wide and toad-faced thing, pale-skinned like all whose familial lines prevented being in the sun for long. A cousin long distant, maybe? It didn’t matter.
Some hybrids knew their families, but Thamer was with the majority who did not, the majority whose blood proved insidiously nutritious. Full-bloods needed to interact with the humans on the surface, and that meant they could not be used as a food source according to the treaties, but the spawn of full-flooded vampires and humans had all the vitamins and qualities lacking in the vampiric bodies. When mixed well with ground oat flour and milk, it was a complete food.
The toad-faced thing had shining round crystalline blue eyes that placed in any other living thing would be lovely. In the head of a vampire, they looked nothing but menacing to Thamer.
Thamer appeared mostly human except for a slightly gray tint to her skin and fully black eyes with no discernible pupils, as was common for Hybrid mixes. The color of the eyes and skin were thought to aid in surviving the sunlight, but immunity to it varied among those with human ancestors.
The vampire tied a cloth band around her arm to bulge the vein, but it was a human physician who would breathe it. It had been arranged that they would train the vampires the proper way to get enough blood without killing a hybrid. The blood was drained into a porcelain vat, then down to an ice block first, then guided to the large chamber where the gruel was constantly mixed with the lifeblood of Thamer’s kind.
It was almost a relief when the human appeared and opened his large black case in search of a golden tool with a knife tip. Finally, the knife, wiped down with an ointment, went in and began to draw out the blood. In seconds Thamer could hear, and almost feel, the patter of it against the ice. Even over the machine, it was a clear noise. That was the sound that made the whole room shake, not the mechanical ridiculous machine that was made ridiculous to prove a point, but the splattering of red life against the cold. The toad-faced vampire left the room. The human physician, a small balding man with apologetic large brown eyes continued his work, making two more incisions and holding her arm even though it was strapped down.
There was pain. There was always pain. The cuts stung, but it was nothing to the deep pain of large blood loss. And the dizziness would set in soon, naught to disappear for days even with regular food and water. And then the list would arrive again to Thamer’s name to offer blood once more. It was safer now with the human physicians.
A shiver ran through her. A shiver that allowed her to move her arm more than it ever had been able to during the process.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Thamer whispered.
“Hardly can I,” the human said. He slightly loosened the bond on her arm. He left the room after instructing her loudly to not move or struggle while the rest of the blood drained.
The idea of moving, of fighting back at all, was excitement. It was anger, but it was happy to even entertain it.
Thamer moved her arm upward a little and began to break the buckle on her strap.
It hurt more than lying still would. And the toad-faced creature would be in here to wonder why the blood supply had stopped at any second.
But this was it. This was over. One way or a million ways, death or freedom or punishment or nothing at all, this was over.
The chamber door opened, and vampire stared at Thamer angrily. Thamer stared back into that face, the face of privileges long denied to her world and kept the gaze as the thing moved over to her.
“They won’t let you live if you don’t contribute. Women like you won’t be able to do anything else, you can’t even comprehend what a kindness this is,” Toad-face said and moved to fully unbuckle the strap on the bleeding arm now that the draining was over, and wordlessly Thamer brought it to the vampire’s face.
With both free limbs the vampire could not pull off the death grip of Thamer’s fingers and nails digging into that fragile skin. The vampire was screaming but the machine was louder. Still, others would be coming to see why the blood was not flowing from a new body. Thamer skimmed her nails down to the vampire’s round eyes and tried to pull them out.
She dislodged only one, but the toad-faced vampire still fell back. Thamer couldn’t move fast enough, it was like being underwater and out of breath as she unbuckled her other hand, then her feet, and her now bloody and shrieking vampire was running toward the chamber door, opening it.
No, that couldn’t happen. Thamer pulled her backward by a wad of short black hair and threw her toward the medical table. The vampire reached out with both hands covered in her own precious blood. These creatures were strong, and Thamer had to keep out of her reach or risk having a limb pulled off, or her skull opened up.
There wasn’t anything in the feeding station chamber room to defend herself with. The human had taken his blood-letting tools.
It was just the two of them.
And winning didn’t seem possible.
The vampire got her slick hands around Thamer’s neck, and they were seconds away from popping it closed, mashing her throat into nothing. Thamer threw her weight back and hit the floor, unrelenting, the vampire didn’t even move to change her grip.
The world was blacking out and the agony spiraled through her body from the points in her throat being crushed to death.
Thamer struggled against the vampire’s arms, and in those disconnected seconds saw the glint on the grimy floor. The discarded knife tip. He’d left it here, still wet with her own blood. And she could just reach it.
Thamer stabbed the vampire in the cheek with the knife edge twice before the death grip was released and then moved the creature’s face over the porcelain vat that was stained deep red and bashed the thing’s head over it until there was no resistance.
Toad-face was still breathing. And Thamer was suddenly thankful for that. Whatever else happened, she didn’t want to kill any of them. Not really.
Hybrids were not hardy like their full-blooded relatives, and the injuries the vampire sustained would be healed with care and blood mixture, but Thamer knew the damage done in this fight might cripple her for life. But nothing had ever felt better. Nothing.
Thamer quietly exited the feeding chamber, a place of nightmares since she was barely able to toddle into it. She left the full-blood to bleed out her wounds into the food mixer as it ran out and around the ice block. It would halt any suspicion that the machine wasn’t working, and any vampires eating it would soon be very, very sick.
They couldn’t eat their own kind.
Thamer climbed the ladder to the surface, to the human town above them all. She was covered in blood and dressed in nothing but the dripping tan medical gown. She would probably be killed or captured and returned to the full-bloods. The humans had no desire to end up as food supply and would gladly return a hybrid to the underground city.
It was suddenly cold as she moved into the night air. Cold and snowing. Like magic, it was floating around in the light of still burning lamp posts like little white bugs. Thamer’s breath was coming out in wisps of smoke.
She’d read about snow. Once they’d been able to look up and watch it fall into their homeland.
There was sky here, Thamer imagined it like a window to a God. The people living here under such scrutiny of the skies must surely behave better than where she came from, where ground level hid everything.
There was a terrible noise on the street, and she noticed several Growler carriages running her way on the muscles of giant horses. Thamer made herself as small as possible in a building’s dark corner and hoped that would be enough.
She hadn’t anticipated that the streets would be full of people. They were well and warmly dressed and a few women were carrying platters, and Thamer could smell the food; turkey mostly, some bread, some soft cheeses. There was a group singing near a tower that seemed lit with a thousand candles. She sunk to the ground. There was no choice but to stay there, stay hidden, and hope not to freeze in the snow. Too many people. Too many obstacles. Always too many obstacles.
Thamer hugged her knees and rested her head on them. She began to fall asleep even as thoughts of angry vampires crawling through the snow to pull her in pieces back to the underground made her want to stay conscious.
“You can’t really walk around in a suit of gore on Christmas. That’s not in the spirit of tradition,” A man’s light and whispered voice woke her. Thamer’s heart painfully raced. Her brain tried to make sense of it as a gentleman handed her a handkerchief, and he smelled like a hybrid. He looked completely as a person, though. With dark blue eyes the way humans sometimes have them, and long, straight brown hair. “I don’t have a huge roasting bird, but we do have food. I can only guess you haven’t had that in some time.”
“How can you be like them and like me?” Thamer said, she handed him back his dainty piece of cloth. He took it, and sighed, then made a motion to wipe her face. Thamer pushed his hand away.
“I’m going to give you my overcoat, and if you clean the blood off of your face, and if you keep your head down, we can make it to my carriage. My driver won’t ask questions but any other human that gets a good look at you is going to have many.” He said.
Thamer only nodded. She wasn’t sure how long the streets would be crowded, and if she could last that long and not freeze to death. She melted snow in her fingers and scrubbed at the blood, now mostly brown, on her face. The man put the dirty handkerchief in his pants pocket, cringing. “They do smell awful, don’t they? And bleed like farm animals on their diet of lifeblood.” He whispered as he placed his long overcoat around her. Thamer slid her arms into the sleeves and they walked quickly, she could not really see where they were going. Unable to look up or around, she simply crawled into an open carriage door and could only breathe when it began to move forward.
“I didn’t kill one if that’s what you think. Nearly, but not quite. I escaped when they brought in a physician to breathe a vein and he left me barely tied down, I’m not a murderer.”
“Well, how disappointing,” the man said.
“You hate them?”
“If you’ve ever met a hybrid that didn’t, they were lying. Or being bribed with something incredible.”
“Why do you look like a person?” Thamer asked.
“Luck. It happens every so often. My vampire ancestor is not my parent, but my grandfather. I’d of been placed there, in the same feeding trough, had my mother not sent me away. I look human, and humans can’t smell what we can. I did tell the truth about my heritage only on one more occasion than this one,” he sighed, “The humans want the vampires dead and gone, maybe more so than us. My company works to that end. I’ve made my fortune as a murderer of vampires. I’d have it no other way.”
The carriage pulled to a stop. Thamer again kept her head down and walked into an open door blindly on the arm of the stranger and only exhaled once the outside world was shut out. His home was immaculate and tall, with a wooden staircase coiled like a snake in motion, and a warm fireplace. Thamer moved beside it and held out her hands as if to greet it.
“I’ll have them bring the game hen out, it’s not turkey, but I wasn’t anticipating feeding anyone else this late. Coffee, too. And one of the cheeses, please,” the man said to an older gentleman who frightened Thamer until she saw that he was unphased by her presence.
“My attendants are human, but they know what we do,” He said.
“They know what you do. Nobody here knows me,” Thamer said.
“They called me Thamer,” she said.
“Do you want to keep that name?”
"I'm Sir Courtenay Sela. You may call me Court, or Sir," he said.
“You should know that I poisoned the batch in the feeding machine, Sir. I let the vampire bleed onto the ice and into the mixer in my place.”
“They’ll be looking for you, then,” Courtenay said, “That is something we haven’t been able to do yet, contaminate the food supply. I’d feared they’d blame the hybrids, or the poor human souls forced to work for them. If they have someone to pin the blame on that they don’t have custody of, though, that would save some lives." The older gentleman sat a plate of food on the small table near the fireplace. Thamer immediately rose to eat. Hybrids were fed, fed well just before and after being bleed, but the times in between were often hungry ones.
“You may eat all you like here. Ask one of my attendants when you want a warm bath drawn. You may go outside but I ask that you wear a dress, overcoat and a bonnet. Be careful to hide the black of your eyes with your hair, which my attendants will be happy to assist you with. Rest, now. And if you want to do what we do, let me know when you’re ready," Courtenay said, he turned to the stairs and began to climb them. She hadn't noticed how tired he looked before, and there was a limp to his step.
In the back of her head, Thamer could still hear the machine. The blood machine. The food machine. The mechanical noise that made thoughts hard to sustain for more than a moment. Right now, they’d be already onto a new hybrid, a new plate of food, a life encased in servitude to be feasted on.
“I’m not a murderer. I am a fighter. I’ll help you. I’ll help anyone who wants this stopped. Even if it means they get rid of us, too. I’ll help.” Thamer looked around at the garlands of Evergreen on cases of books and the living tree, though small and leaning, in the grand room. Everything here was alive-was beautiful. There was but one great window of the house, and outside the little pieces of snow were frantically dancing around each other.
“You know, I have only brief memories of the underground. Little flashes because I was a tot when I was sent away. But those flashes are dark, grim. Slimy darkness, and this noise," Courtenay trailed off.
“Always the noise. It’s not painful until you are in the room with the mixer, but I can barely remember not hearing it,” Thamer said. “This, though, this place is beautiful.”
“It is,” Courtenay said. “It very much is.”
*Go check out the photographer who provided the background texture for my illustration on Unsplash@ Katie Doherty