Vampire City, page 1
Copyright © 2014 by Heather Crews
All rights reserved.
Obviously I knew, from the beginning, I had married a vampire.
I have this image in my head, the day of our unceremonious wedding. It was late in the fall. Thick clouds blocked the sun. We both wore black, a macabre detail we hadn't planned. Afterwards, outside the courthouse, we stood staring at each other for a moment, hardly able to believe our new happiness. We are married. I leaned my head against his chest and he circled his arms tightly around me. With one hand he stroked my unremarkable brown hair, shaped into a chin-length cut I hated. His hair, ice-blond and just touching his shoulders, tangled freely in the wind.
Now my hair is long. Now, I am afraid.
Him. Oswald. Tall and broad-shouldered, his skin so pale, a faint grayish cast hinting at his undeadness. Strong, lean features. Green eyes like glaciers, the irises ringed with black that leaks into the green like spilled ink. Quick to smile, but usually without showing his teeth. Quick to forgive mistakes. Quick to fall in love.
He asked me to marry him. I didn't hesitate when I said yes.
The vampire city in the north is not overly large, yet not so small. Ruined and abandoned by humans, it seems terribly desolate, even filled with vampires and their wives. Though vampires own cars, they don't use them within the city, so the streets are traveled only by foot and thus there was never a need to clear the rubble. The crumbling buildings responsible for all this debris are the color of watery tea, their weakened walls sagging like rotten skin. The air smells a bit like sulfur. In the winter the snow is like dirt-smudged frosting on a smashed cake. Summer never brings much warmth, and very little sun.
But he is here and I like the city well enough, even if I do find it frightening at times. It's almost impossible not to feel frightened with unfamiliar vampires occupying little shadowed houses and hidden apartments, concealing their wives from other vampires who feel no loyalty to any woman but the one they married. I don't know exactly what could happen if I ever wandered outside alone at night, vulnerable to the whims of any passing vampire stranger, and I don't want to know. In this city, especially, it is the husband's duty more than anything to protect his wife. Our bones are so fragile in the wrong vampire's hands.
I know other wives must fear my husband, as I fear theirs. But even though I know he is a creature of darkness, I couldn't have asked for anyone better. I do love Oswald passionately and I know he loves me.
I know it.
We all heard rumors about some big ceremony vampires were supposed to perform on their first anniversaries, but no one knew what it entailed. It was a surprise, I supposed. I don't interact much with other wives, so I can't be sure what happens to them after that first year. Maybe there's a reason we hardly see each other. A reason we're so isolated.
Well, I never liked surprises. I decided to do some research about this rumored ceremony. Which wasn't, as it happened, a rumor at all.
The book I found in the library mentioned common fates for a wife: a husband could drain her blood entirely, trade her with another vampire, or even throw her at the mercy of unwed vampires—a grave insult. Every choice involves a ceremony of some kind.
But, the book informed me, a vampire husband can only get rid of his wife on the first anniversary of the marriage. The ceremony was all part of some convoluted system of vampire rules and traditions.
Less horrifying, I read further on, and much less common, he could choose to stay with his wife. He wasn't obligated to get rid of her, just permitted to do so.
He could choose to stay with me, I assured myself numbly as I closed the book. He loves me.
Vampires are very strong and ruthless, not known for their compassion. Some say they don't even have hearts. Who knows if they are really, truly capable of love?
In the back of the book I saw a long list, a record of vampires' names and the choices they'd made. The handwriting was cramped and hard to read on the yellowed pages, but I deciphered enough to know hardly any of them had actually stayed with their wives.
Maybe Oswald was drifting away from me, I thought, the information in the book having made me paranoid. Did he stay out later and later each night when he left to hunt? Did I detect the scent of some alluring perfume on his chilled skin when he came home? Was his kiss on my cheek—and why not on my lips?—too hasty, too soulless?
My blood was like ice. Some moments it felt as if I couldn't breathe. My body seemed to flutter and muscles in my face would twitch. What had I gotten myself into? How could I get myself out of it?
When Oswald woke in the evening, he lit the candles and wrapped me in an embrace from behind. My body responded to his beloved familiarity and briefly I thought I must have read that book wrong or misinterpreted it somehow . . .
But I knew what he could do to me, and knowing was the only thing to save me. Because I had to get away. I had to run.
"Is something wrong?" Oswald asked.
I turned to him with a loving smile. "I'm only thinking about our anniversary," I told him truthfully.
"I'm looking forward to it, my love."
I bet you are, I thought gravely as he left our home to hunt in the night.