Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Excerpt: DeVante's Curse (short story)

In a cold, cold castle, far away from the Colombian rainforest, lives the vampire Katarina with her servent Felix, an orphan named Ernesto, and a great burning pit. From this comes DeVante, a vampire with an intractable personal code and an emotional separation from all things human.

DeVante's Curse
by SM Johnson

Part 1 – A child

It did not matter how he became the monster or the man, only that he grew into both, and thus was meant to survive.

Ernesto Alvarez was born a pariah, the male offspring of the village witch, an impossibility according to superstition. His mother had bled profusely from his passage into the world, and the bleeding would not be stopped. Her frightened apprentice spread a story that the witch used her last breath to curse her male offspring. You shall live darkly and long, and the culmination of your life shall be your triumph.

He had no father. If any man from the village had claimed parentage of the witch's son, they would surely have both been driven away.

From the moment he could stand on his feet and push open the door, he preferred the forest to the enclosed space of his mother's hut, and so he took shelter only during the heaviest rains.

The animals were his guides. He learned from spider monkeys which fruits and berries were safe to eat, and from the capybara about edible plants. He sometimes ate the raw flesh of the tapir when the kill was plentiful, and the jaguar too sated to chase him away.

Ernesto did not remember a taste preference between these things. He knew the villagers cooked meat over fires, but all of the animals distrusted fire, and he shared their wariness. Fruits and nuts were plentiful and easier to catch than meat, and killing for the purpose of sustenance was unpleasant.

He would eventually become all too aware of the irony.

Twelve rainy seasons had passed when a guide from a different village brought the red-haired woman to him, and explained in choppy, difficult to understand phrases that it was Ernesto's destiny to go away with her. He did not quite understand, but as the villagers stood in a semi-circle around him holding torches to ward off the night, he could see in their solemn eyes that they wanted him to go.

The woman smiled as she smoothed her fingers through his hair, but there was something wrong with her smile, and despite his being unable to understand her speech, he could see a disconnect in her eyes that belied the honey-sweet tone of her voice.

Ernesto did not trust her, and less so when she wrapped her arms around him and leapt into the sky like a great bird of prey.

Ernesto was meant to survive.

The woman brought him to a stone building in a cold land. Her voice chattered incessantly, but her words meant nothing to him. He was shivering from the cold, and only knew to ignore her, the way the solitary jaguar ignored him when her belly was full.

A loud shriek from the woman made him turn his head. And then her palm met his cheek with a harsh sound and shocking pain.

He had done something wrong, and yet he had done nothing.

She hit him again, and he fell to his knees, raising his hands to protect his face.

She beat him until he thought he would die.

He stayed on the floor, barely able to breathe. It was emotional as much as it was physical, and a hard seed of anger settled into his chest. Discipline in the animal world was swift and immediate. The jaguar might cuff her young and send him sprawling if he bit or clawed too hard, but it was warranted, and then it was over.

Ernesto had done nothing to warrant discipline but fail to understand her language.

A boy, older than Ernesto by several rainy seasons, helped him sit up, and then stand. A boy whose language was more like Ernesto's than the woman's.

"She will beat you no matter what you do or do not do, say or do not say," the boy said.

"How do I avoid it?" Ernesto asked.

"You cannot. She brought you here for some purpose. Maybe she'll kill you, maybe not."

Ernesto worked to wipe all emotion from his face, hoping to eradicate the dread from his heart. "What are we to do?" he asked.

"We work," the boy said. "We feed her. We obey."

The boy's name was Felix, and he led Ernesto to the large kitchen where he cleaned Ernesto's face with a cool rag, then gave him bread and cheese to eat. Then he led Ernesto through the tasks of sweeping floors, and stacking wood into the fireplaces. "We check the sun now," Felix said, and pulled Ernesto through a doorway to an outside courtyard.

The right side of the courtyard was taken up by a raised smoking pit. The flagstones beneath his bare feet were warm. Ernesto's left flank was bruised, his limbs ached, and he wanted nothing more than to lie on the stones under the caress of the sun. Felix held his arms straight out from his sides, and lifted his face to the sun. He stood like that for several minutes, eyes closed, face tranquil, and mouth almost smiling.

When Felix opened his eyes and looked at Ernesto, the tranquility slipped away, and dual creases formed at the bridge of his nose as he frowned. He nodded his head toward the burning pit. "We have one really bad job."

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