They’ve given me a proper spot where I can see the harbor. It’ll likely be the last time I glimpse the orange shades of the falling sun ripple across the dark blue waves. My hands tied behind my back, my legs shackled, a stake holding up most of my weight, I cannot imagine I have much more time.
There’s a main speaker for the gathering a few meters away from me. A man. Don’t know his name. Honestly, don’t care, either. I don’t remember how long I’ve been in this town or if I’ve seen his face before, but it doesn’t really matter anymore.
Blood trickles from a wound on my head. It was probably that large fellow who hit me. Knocked me out cold and then strapped me to this tree to burn for crimes I cannot remember. It seems I didn’t receive an invitation for this event. I did not even get a chance to run from it before someone hung me up as the entertainment.
The sweet scent of the nearby ash trees wash over me as a strong breeze blows over us. It carries away the voices of the murmuring crowd down below, caressing my cheek in a small attempt to make me more comfortable in my last moments. The sea and the trees are my only companions in this final piece of my life.
What would I give to sleep under the cedar of my mam’s house once more? I used to visit for the annual soccer games she held with my cousins. They were a noisy lot. Too large, too loud, too full of energy and life and laughs. They were probably some of the best people in my life.
Of course, that could be false. My head pounding, mouth dry, eyes wet, I can’t remember the last few days, weeks, perhaps a year. I’ve lost important time, things that could save me now, but I remember Mam.
She had a cottage in a forest where we all gathered for holidays and sports. It was just her and I for most of my life. On good days, the house smelled of cinnamon from cookies baking in her oven. Others, the subtle scent of mildew was never far off.
I can’t remember what happened to her. It’s probably for the best. Hopefully, she went first, so she never gets the news of what’s to happen to me tonight.
The crowd lets out a united roar. They’ve come for a show and they’re expecting more blood.
Mam raised me to be respectful of the powers of this world. Not just the Catholic deity, but any other smaller creatures that could be listening. The fae are never far from the trees. They can disguise themselves as owls and deers or wrap themselves in nightmares meant to scare children far from the safety of their homes.
I don’t care what they look like. They can have gnarled teeth and boils on their cheeks. They can be green or blue or orange or yellow. They can have feathers or only wear leaves for clothing. If any of them are listening to this now, I will hand over my life to their capricious capture. They can have my name, my soul, my eternity. I’d give anything to be released from this spectacle.
There’s another shout from the crowd. They’re not looking at me. Just at the man leading this mob against me. It shouldn’t be long before they’re up here with torches and pitchforks.
I wish I knew what I did wrong. I do not think I’m the kind of man to sleep with someone’s wife or daughter. I’m not a thief. At least, there would be a good reason if I was out stealing, right?
I don’t recognize this town or these people, but they’ve come together to agree I’m guilty of whatever happened. This entire ordeal is likely more interesting than anything they get on satellite television. Whether or not I did something isn’t really the point. I’m going to pay the price for their bad fortunes and then their lives will go back to normal and mine will be over.
Plain and simple, isn’t it?
I let my head fall back against the stake at my back. This is it. Nobody is coming to help me. I’m going to be burned alive or left strapped up here to die from exposure to the elements. Honestly, I don’tdon’t know which one is worseis worst.
A hand clamps down over my mouth. Struggling to breathebreath, I don’t fight back. Nobody at the end of the hill has moved or looked up my way in several minutes. This is something different.
“If I let go, you must not scream.”
Are the fae typically French? The man’s breath is on my ear. It’s warm in contrast to the cool air.
“Nod yes or no.”
Yes. Of course I won’t scream. This is the best thing to happen to me all day. I conjured a fae with my mind and I might be enslaved to its creative pursuits, but I probably won’t die today.
I nod quickly and the hot palm falls away from my mouth. The man doesn’t walk around to my front. He stays at my back, his voice low as he fiddles with the ropes keeping me bound.
“Can I have your name?”
Oh. I’ve heard these stories. When the fae ask for a name, you’re not supposed to give it up. They can take over your whole world with that simple trick.
My mam raised me right. She knew of the fae, encouraged me to not fear them, but taught me their tricks. My da was an English man who wasn’t home much. He laughed at her, but I think her stories might have just saved me.
My voice comes out in a hoarse whisper. “You may not have it, but you may call me Cedric.”
“Alright, Cedric,” he sounds confused, probably thrown off by my specific wording. “I need you to tell me why you’re here.”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t know or can’t remember?”
I sigh. “Does it matter?”
He grabs the ties around my wrists. “The people down there think you’re a werewolf. They say you ate several sheep and attacked a human.”
“Wolves died out of Ireland in the 1700s.”
It’s not an answer. I know that. I’m stating the obvious in order to gain time to comb through the memories I don’t have.
Wolf. I ate sheep? I wouldn’t have hurt someone.
I’m not that kind of guy.
At least, I don’t remember being that kind of guy.
“Well? Having memory problems?”
I nod. No point in denying it. I don’t know how long I’ve been tied up here, but my hands are tingling and the cold has sunk into my bones. I don’t recognize a single person in the crowd down there. I don’t even know what town is off in the distance. I’m a stranger in a strange land being tried for crimes I can’t remember.
“It’s typical for someone who has been recently exposed to the virus.”
The ties around my left wrist startstarts to loosen as he saws through the thick rope. “I’m not sick.”
“True. You didn’t catch the common cold, Cedric. However, there’s been abe a recent rise in the virus out here.”
My left hand is free. I wiggle my fingers to try to get the blood moving again. With the ropes around my chest, I can’t step forward or move at all, but it’s a small bit of progress towards my escape.
“You a scientist or something?”
There’s a deep chuckle at my back. “Some would call me an antiquarian. I like to collect things that will eventually be very old.”
Okay then. Definitely an odd answer. Something a strange creature would say. He’s probably trying to gain my trust just enough to get me to agree to some horrible bargain.
This is it.
I want to ask for clarification, but we don’t have time for such things. The mob has changed direction. Thirty pairs of eyes are focused on me. The man at my back has stopped moving. For all I know, he’s gone.
Me against a mob that has now lit torches in order to make their way back up the hill. At some point, the sun fell completely behind the horizon. Night, it seems, will be my final companion.
Maybe I’ll live long enough to glimpse the full moon once more. I could settle for seeing a few stars. Anything would be better than staring out into the darkness that is coming quick to take me from my earthly existence.
The procession climbs the hill, their voices mingling together into a single message: My time is up.
Panic flares in my chest. The bindings have somehow tightened. I can’t breathebreath. I can’t move. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
I can’t die like this.
. . .
The world is upside down. A red mist lingers in front of me. It’s dark and I’m not breathing.
They’ve killed me. Why did I wake up just to die?
“Cedric. Up here, please.”
The voice of the creature from the woods. Is he here to take what remains of my soul? I’m already so cold. My chest is tight. My arms are limp at my sides. Bits of grass tickle my cheeks as I try to focus on the pair of legs standing just to the side of me.
“You need to breathe.”
Scuffed sneakers, legs wrapped in jeans, the creature looks entirely normal. I gasp in a breath of air as I push up from the ground to get a better look. Tanned skin. There’s scars around his wrists and on his hands as he reaches towards me.
“We need to go, Cedric. Can you stand?”
Black hair tied in a tail at the back of his neck. Green eyes. A slightly crooked nose.
“Cedric. Focus. We don’t have much time.”
I peel my eyes away from his face and the concern swimming in his gaze. The scene behind him takes away the little breath I had managed to contain. Splintered wood sticks up out of the grass. There’s smoke drifting away from a smothered fire. Nobody is standing. Instead, the men and women of this town are on their knees. There’s wounds. I can smell the tang of blood and hear moanshear a moans amongst the crowd.
“Cedric,” the creature from the woods snaps his fingers in front of my face. “We need to go now.”
I don’t look at him. I can’t.
There’s blood on my hands. It’s splattered across the front of my shirt. I don’t remember anything happening, but the proof is spread across me.
I did this. I don’t deserve help. I likely never did.
“Everyone is going to be okay, Cedric. I’m a doctor. I already checked on everyone before I came back to you. They’re going to stay still and wait for us to leave. That’s all.” His hand is still extended towards me. “Let me help you now.”
This can’t be happening. I wish I could see my mam or throw myself into the arms of someone more capable of dealing with this. I’m a monster. I hurt people. I should be burned and left to rot in the open as a warning for these people to be careful of what lurks out in the world.
“Who are you?” I croak.
He doesn’t waver in his stance. “Gideon Carter. I have a facility designed to help people like you. We just have to walk away from this.”
How am I supposed to walk away from the blood and fear coating the faces of these people?
Why is this something I have to remember?
“It’s not easy to be labeled as a monster, Cedric. You will survive this, though.”
I want to cover my head with my arms and melt away into the grass, to truly be taken by the fae and never seen again. “What about the next time I black out?”
His hand stays in front of me, a current offer to change my life. “I’ll be there next time and every time after until we have this under control.”
“How can I trust you? What if I kill you? Who’s going to stop me then?”
Gideon crouches down to my level, his voice low to keep the conversation just between the two of us. “I’m the first vampire of the latest generation. I made it without help, but I won’t let anyone else go through what I did. You’ll be safe with me.”
Vampire. Not fae.
My mind is spinning even as I slide my hand into his warm palm. This is real. It is very, very real.
Mam would never believe I talked to a creature of the night and lived to tell the tale.
He pulls me to my feet, slipping my arm over his shoulders in order to support my weight. Together, we walk away from the townspeople and the ocean I watched as I held what I thought to be my last breaths. I don’t know where we’re headed. I don’t even know if it’s the best place for someone like me.
It’ll be a story, though.
Something worthy of telling Mam if I ever do see her again.
Cedric is a minor character in the landscape of vampires I’ve compiled for one of my larger novels. He, however, as all good side characters should, believes his story is just as important to share. Going through these prompts and shaping them to characters I’ve known for years is a great way to add in shades of depth I hadn’t taken the time to do previously.
He and Gideon will return along their protagonist, Tamyra Raeleigh, in a story that parallels Lucy and Miles from the previous prompts.
Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s story and be sure to check out my writing partners, Bridgette and Anna: