When the man awakes, we brides are waiting in the moonlight, lurking by velvet curtains layered with dust. The Count forbade we touch him. We hunger for more than blood.
“Sister, you first!” Bride 1 hisses at me.
“No, me!” hisses Bride 3, but Bride 1 blocks her and they spar like that momentarily, hissing and gliding. Such has become our life.
“Hush!” I snap as I reach for the trembling man. My teeth ache in longing. I run my finger along the curve of his jaw, across his lips.
Something surges in me. Flashes of my former life — a sunlit field, tall grass and thistles. Some days when sleep alludes me, I lie awake in my tomb and try to remember my name. Ana? Carmen? Maria?
“Drink!” Bride 1 hisses, plunging me back to the decaying castle, mortar crumbled at our bare feet.
“You are first, and we shall follow,” I tell Bride 1. Not only is she First, but she has fair hair while Bride 3 and I are dark and brown. “Yours is the right to begin.”
Her eyes dance in fear and delight as she leans over the man.
Suddenly, the Count appears. “How dare you touch him, any of you?” he bellows. “How dare you cast eyes on him, when I had forbidden it?”
He thrusts a long arm from beneath his black cape and clasps Bride 1’s slim neck, and with a fierce sweep of his arm, hurls her into the wall.
She sprawls against it then rights herself on hands and knees, facing down. “You yourself never loved!” she shouts at him. “You never love!”
He glances at me, right then. I swear it.
“Yes, I too can love,” he answers. “You yourselves can tell it from the past.”
Bride 1 crawls down the wall, and the Count brings forth a dark bag with something moving inside. We retire with it to our chambers. It is not enough. And yet, it’s what we have.
The next evening, Bride 3 looks out the window. “He leaves,” she says.
Bride 1 and I rush to see. He always tells us his appointments. We sense what this means. And yet, we wait. For months we wander the halls, brushing cobwebs from doorways as we pass, watching out windows with arched panes but no glass. Summer slips to autumn. The Count does not return.
Perhaps it is foolish to yearn for the love of a man who has openly taken others. And yet I dream of the Count. When he first came to me, standing in the doorway of my father’s barn as I calmed the braying horses, I felt a fierce desire I’d never known. I knew he felt the same.
When he bites her, his new bride, I feel a sharp sting on my neck. At the same moment, Bride 1 touches hers, and we exchange a look. The second time, weeks later, she only sighs, and Bride 3 says, “Ouch! What the hell was that?” The third time, Bride 1 and I meet at the windowless window.
“We must find him,” I say as a single snowflake swirls into the room.
“We must,” Bride 1 says.
Bride 3 looks up from her needlepoint. “What?”
The woods are grey. I haven’t been past the castle grounds since the Count first brought me. Since I thought I was his only bride. The steep incline of the Carpathians is dark and the pass is narrow. Our white gowns blend with the whirling snow.
We smell them before we hear them — the thick sweet scent of blood and the tinder of fire. Then, a voice. It is her.
When we reach them, they have drawn themselves into a circle lined with sacred wafer. It is the one thing I can feel — the burning. I see that the girl is dark too. Does she remind the Count of me?
They sit on a bed of furs. “We safe in this circle,” the man tells her in a heavy accent.
“None safer in all the world from them than I am,” says the girl.
We circle them, chanting. “Come, sister. Come to us. Come! Come!”
We beckon to her. She lifts her hand but the man pushes it back down.
“We must stay strong, Mina!” he scolds.
I arch an eyebrow at Bride 1. “She has a name.”
Bride 1 chortles. “Not for long!”
The girl looks up sharply. The girl, Mina. She still has a name.
Impulsively I pull Bride 1 back. “She is not fully his bride yet. If we let her go, it will remain us three.”
Maybe this is true. But that’s not why I want to spare her.
“It’s almost dawn,” I continue. “Let us return to our resting places.”
“But I wanted to feast!” Bride 3 whines. “And kill that bitch.”
I lead them away, to the horses, who bray and jolt when they see us, but I stroke their muzzles. “I’m sorry,” I whisper to them. My sisters descend upon the poor beasts. After a while, we leave them slumped on the earth, snow already accumulating on their backs.
The sky is brightening on the horizon as we race back to the castle. Weakened and relieved, I reach my tomb.
He wakes me from a deep sleep, the man with the heavy accent. Silhouetted by the sun, he watches me with dark eyes. I return his gaze. He has seen something in me, and now he wants to know me. How long, since I have been known? I am so very tired, yet I yearn for him.
I am Elena. I mouth the words.
Suddenly, memories flood me. Elena! A boy with hair the color of walnuts, walking besides me in the sunlit field. He reaches out to me.
Elena. My arms are so heavy but I lift them.
Too late I realize my mistake. He raises a wooden stake above me, and then—
Jennifer Kircher Carr’s fiction is published in numerous literary journals, including The Rumpus, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly, Literary Orphans, and The Nebraska Review, where it also won the Fiction Prize. Her nonfiction appears in Ploughshares online and North American Review online. She is co-curator of the online writing community WordTango, and is currently working on a collection of linked stories and a novel.
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Still from Dracula