Alice opened the window, strangely surprised to find that everything was normal, too normal – the full moon, shining serenely, the dew spangled grass swaying gently, the quiet countryside. There were no dark sinister figures, no shadows, nothing that justified her sense of dread.
She closed the window and sank into the chair.
I’m just getting nervy, she told herself, her eyes heavy.
From the corner of her eyes she saw the room shift out of focus – all familiar objects – the chair, table, crib, flattened out like life sized cardboard cut-outs and under them was a black darkness, oozing from the sides.
She rubbed her eyes and opened them fully. The nursery was its usual brightly-lit self and Mel was smiling cheerfully at her from her crib.
Damn – me and my imagination, she told herself, trying to smile and failing.
The first time Alice had felt submerged by the feeling that everything was artificial was during her pregnancy. Her shrink explained with suppressed impatience that she was feeling threatened by the child in her womb. She felt petty and guilty – like he was saying that the stress or depression, whatever it was labelled, was really her fault.
And they charge us to tell us all that, she had said to herself ruefully.
Tim, her husband, never one for subtlety – had plainly said that she was bonkers.
Those pregnancy months had filled out her body but her cheeks had sunk and her dark circles had grown so big they almost touched her lips. Her hand shook all the time and she was easy to startle.
Women around her, alarmed at her cemetery-ready look, exchanged deep glances but consoled her that the sight of the tiny one would make up for it all.
This fear, the shrink had assured her after due disclaimers on how she may be different, will go away after childbirth.
Well, okay, now she knew – she was different.
Oh yes, Mel was a cute kid and she loved her. But even after Mel was born, Alice continued to have fits of disorientation and an almost ever-present sheath of sadness wrapped tight around her.
Alice felt the depression was something to do with the house – it was wrong somehow, evil in its substrata. But days spent in the local library and with the older matrons full of gossip yielded nothing – it was not built on a lot of graves, no gruesome murders had taken place here, no ghosts had been seen in the vicinity.
When Tim came to know, he had raised his eyebrows and told her to stop looking for excuses. Snap out of it, woman, he said, rolling up his eyes.
And Alice had stopped telling him how strangled she felt.
Today, the feeling was particularly strong.
Alice turned to look at Mel again. Mel was smiling her favourite baby smile. She picked Mel up and held her tight, but the terror in her mind started constricting her chest and she quickly put Mel back in the crib, scared she would crush her.
Maybe it’s all in my mind, she told herself. Children are supposed to be sensitive, but Mel looks so content.
About six months ago, when Tim had come back home after a tiring day at office, he found her sitting there, staring at him as if he was the Grim Reaper.
“I’ve had it, woman, you are sucking out all my happiness,” he shouted, and then went inside.
She followed the muffled sounds that came. He was taking down the small case from the loft, dumping it on the bed and throwing some clothes in it. The case was being snapped shut now, and some drawers were being opened and banged close. Another snapping sound, some loud steps, and he was now standing in front of her, a bag slung on his shoulder and a briefcase in his hand.
“I think it is best if I move away,” he murmured, not looking her in her eye. He had loved her once, when she was a happy person and the memory hung heavy between them.
In sickness and health, she thought.
Won’t you say bye to Mel, she wanted to ask. But she knew he would not – he never even went to the nursery. He thought kids were just messy and noisy nuisances who leaked from both ends. If Mel was put in a room along with other children, Tim could not have recognised her.
Maybe career-minded men like Tim were not capable of loving and giving.
When she heard the door click shut, a single tear fell on the bulging blue veins of her emaciated hand. She knew Tim would never return.
That night she dreamt of vampires. Like those in the Dracula comic she had read hidden in her English workbook at school.
When she woke up, the dream was hazy, but she was sure that it meant something.
Am I the vampire? she wondered. Is Mel at danger from me? Should I call up Tim and ask him to take her away to safety?
She stood for a long time in front of the mirror, examining her eyes, her teeth, trying to remember what vampires were supposed to like and what they were supposed to hate.
She put garlic butter on toasted garlic bread and went out in the sunlight, nibbling at it. She took a small knife, held it over her lighter to sterilise it and made a nick on her bare arm. She stuck out her tongue to lick the trickle of blood. She puked, and then laughed in relief.
Not a vampire. Anyway, she had not risen from a grave, at least as far as she remembered.
Then maybe the dream was a portent of things to come. An attack by vampires. She could just about picture it – the guffaw of the policemen if she called them up to ask for help.
Amanda landed up the next day, just like that. She dumped her small bag on the carpet and turned to scold Alice, “No wonder Tim has left – look at you!”
Amanda was always so full of energy that Alice would get tired just looking at her. Friends said they had never seen sisters who were so different.
Amanda bustled around for a couple of days, clearing up the house, moving furniture, trying to coax Alice back into the world of the living. Then she gave up. “You look like a ghost,” she accused Alice, “You just don’t care. All you do is spoil that kid. You’re hiding behind Mel. Snap out of it. This way, you’ll lose all your friends. Get a life.”
Friends? Which friends? Alice giggled semi-hysterically. Amanda looked at her in disgust, then picked up her bag and walked out.
Alice was getting used to people who walked out on her.
Frankly, it was a relief, being alone with her unnamed horrors. She sank deeper and deeper in a world where dark whorls surrounded her and her heart thumped louder that the grandfather clock in the hallway.
She had not stepped out of the house ever since Amanda had left. Mrs. Thomas, the lady who came in to clean, did her shopping. Last week, she had made it clear that she was tired or working in this dark and sad house and would have quit if it were not for Mel. Mel was over a year old now, and could toddle a bit.
The only thing that kept Alice going was that Mel depended on her. Apart from doing whatever was needed for Mel, Alice spent the day thinking about vampires, ghosts, and all other sorts of horrific creatures. Shapes she had seen only in comics and horror movies how seemed to flatten themselves and come from under the door, she saw them fly in from the window, she saw them burst out of the cupboard she opened and sprayed out of the aerosol she used. The air was thick with morbid creatures all sucking out the energy from her. But when she waved her arms about, her arms went through them.
She knew that she was getting crazy and needed help.
Some day, I’ll return to that obnoxious shrink. He may even get me committed, she told herself. Maybe that would get me peace.
Mrs. Thomas said Alice was morbid. “Get your butt out of the house, lady,” she would say.
Two days ago, Alice had forgotten to give Mel her dinner. She had dozed off in the cane chair in Mel’s room, and when she woke up it was midnight and she was, as usual, drained. Mel’s dinner lay untouched on the dining table downstairs.
Mel was looking at her silently, almost contemplatively, but Alice had no energy and dozed off again.
When Mrs. Thomas came the next day and saw Mel’s dinner, she glared at Alice. After some time, Alice had heard Mrs. Thomas pick up the phone in the hallway and call someone. She quietly picked up the extension and heard Mrs. Thomas report a case of child neglect.
Alice put back the extension phone, thinking. Neglect? Mel was growing fine. She was chubby and cheerful and all her growth milestones were normal.
Tomorrow, those social workers would come and look around. The house was in a mess and Alice knew she would not be able to speak coherently. Incapable of looking after an infant, they would say, and take Mel away.
Most probably, this was her last night with Mel.
As she sat near Mel, the darkness filled her heart, it oozed out from her, creeping on the floor and spreading like a carpet. I love you, sweetheart, she mumbled to Mel.
She could see a black cloud fill the room and envelop Mel. She wanted to get up and snatch Mel away to safety. She reached out to Mel, and found herself caressing Mel’s neck.
She is so small I could strangle her, she thought. Then no one will take her away.
For a brief moment, she felt her energy returning as she gripped the child’s throat. But then she realised what she was doing and froze. The last vestiges of her energy sapped out, and her hands fell limply to her side.
Alice watched in wonder as the blackness formed a funnel and Mel sucked it in through her mouth, laughing in delight, fed and content.
As Alice collapsed on the floor, fully drained, Mel looked at her, knowing that her mother could no longer satisfy her appetite. But tomorrow, when the social workers would come, there would be a feast. And then, in the foster homes and orphanages there would be so much more variety.
Mel closed her eyes and slept off, smiling her usual sweet smile.
(c) Swapna Kishore, All Rights Reserved
Tags: 'Living for Mel', 'Swapna Kishore', Bloodlust-UK, Dracula, Short Story, Vampire, Vampire Fiction, Writers
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