A paranormal romance short story by Leah Voithoffer
As Noire stared down at the finalists in the grand tournament that she held each year in the bowels of her dark and brooding castle to determine which creature would have the honor of receiving a favor from the ruler of all vampires, she thought that the turnout of champions was rather boring. She skimmed the various champions who sought to procure a favor from the well-known vampire queen, and found them lacking in her judgmental gaze. The tournament was held every decade, although at this rate Noire began to wonder if it wouldn’t make sense to switch to a centennial affair.
She leaned over to whisper at one of her sons, the mighty Ajax, “Aren’t you a bit bored, dear?”
Ajax, who never tired of fearsome competition and adored violence, replied “Yes, I am.”
Noire nodded. “Have the humans always been so weak? Our tournaments have always brought in the most ravenous for power!” She gestured with long red fingernails at the grappling humans in the pit. “Two humans managed to fight their way to the top and now there’s a grandmother and grandchild scrabbling about in the dirt!”
The aforementioned old woman and teenager…were scrabbling about in the dirt. Ajax winced as the old woman sank her teeth into the teenager’s hand. The young punk screamed like a toddler.
“I can’t help but agree that this year’s finalists are…less skilled than past champions.” He fiddled with the medals on his coat, that of a general, and checked his brand-new Blackberry cell phone. Noire was proud at the way Ajax had seamlessly integrated into the military. “But, Mother, is there not a gloriousness in the violence of two who would normally never raise a hand at each other but for power?”
Gregory groaned from his seat in the VIP box, catching Noire’s attention. “Mama, I’m bored. Can we not declare one of these bums the winner already?”
Noire sighed. “Gregory, you really must learn the value of patience. Can’t you see I’m already bored enough without listening to that simpering tone of yours?”
Gregory began simpering even louder. It faded into the background as Noire tuned him out with a practiced ear.
If Noire was being honest with herself, and she personally relied on pure pomp and circumstance to carry her through her day, the only avenue that interested her at the moment were the brief flashes of memory, pre-turning. Most vampires lost their memories during the pain of the transition, often compared to a scouring of the body and soul. Noire’s flashes came and went, but there was always red hair and a certain kind of laugh. A simple life in a dusty forest that she scoffed at now from her throne.
There was a sudden lack of movement in the pit. Noire stared down at her finalists. The grandmother had the teen in a headlock and the teen was tapping out surrender on her arms, and with a 1-2-3 beat the teen passed out from the lack of air. The audience of vampires and lesser beings cheered. The grandmother laid the teen in the muck and looked up at the winner’s box. Noire’s interest was peaked, and she turned to Gregory, who was still going on and on. His mouth closed with an clack of fangs.
“Gregory, you’re annoying me. Go do your job,” she ordered, and Gregory obeyed with a zip, maneuvering with a flash of arms and legs. In an instant the grandmother was in his arms and deposited in front of Noire and her thicket of children.
Noire realized that she had thought the grandmother was older than she was. She looked to be a spry sixty, with some idea of muscle tone on her body. She allowed the woman a moment to catch her bearings and gaze upon Noire’s form, perennially youthful with a slinky black cocktail dress that hugged every curve of her alluring, beautiful—
—the woman had the nerve to interrupt the time she was supposed to be taking to stare. “I’m the champion.”
Though she find this response odd, Noire demurred with a saccharine smile, displaying her fangs in all their pearlized shine. “You seem, despite all odds, to be our human champion for this year’s tournament. Do tell me what you wish for!” she finished with a flourish.
“I want to spend the night with you,” the woman said.
Noire’s children, despite their adulthood, were still her children, and so they let out a groan in union at the notion of their mother having sex. Noire was pleased at her popularity, if a little bemused. “It’s been quite a long time since a champion fought tooth—" she paused to allow chuckles (Gregory’s was loud and honking, with Ajax remaining silent) “—and nail to win the honor of a lusty night with me. What is your name, brave champion?”
Noire blinked. A strange sense of familiarity unfurled. She didn’t like it. “That’s an ugly name.”
“Only one I’ve got.”
What a strange night this will be, she thought to herself, as she only let her lip curl to thirty percent disgust. Fifty percent disgust and she would drain this woman of every last drop of blood in her body.
“I’d like to begin the night now, if possible.”
Noire raised an eyebrow. “No dinner, no gifts, no actual seduction? I’m feeling quite ambivalent towards you.” Everything about this Phoebe character seemed so simple, from the graying hair that held on to small strokes of red to the dull blue eyes to the mud-spattered brown shirt and pants. The mud certainly wasn’t allowing the already dismally beige color to pop.
“Yes,” Phoebe replied.
Noire let out a faint scoffing sound despite herself. Ajax stood and began searching Phoebe, who held her arms out. He scented and declared her magic-free, equipped with no weapons. It seemed that the habit of champions attempting to assassinate Noire through attempting to spend the night with her had been broken. Noire loved attempted assassinations. They gave her the chance to drain a human with no remorse.
Noire rose from her throne, offering an arm to Phoebe, who took it. “I suppose I ought to show you to one of the many bedrooms. Children, amuse yourselves.” At Noire’s command, her flock of children transformed into a cauldron of bats, and they flew off, a pair descending to check out the motionless runner-up. They would look over the boy’s paperwork and find out if he requested to have his mind wiped by Noire’s resident warlock.
Noire lead Phoebe to the bedroom, giving her many opportunities to survey the beautiful castle. She pointed out the stained glass bats, the expertly placed Picassos, the individual sculptures of her family and one massive one of them all together. Phoebe deigned to look over them, silent as a mouse. On closer inspection, Noire was forced to admit to herself that the woman wasn’t hideously ugly. She wouldn’t catch the eye or draw attention if one wasn’t extraordinary themselves, but her quiet nature was a little appealing to the natural dramatic such as Noire. Perhaps the night wouldn’t be an entire waste and Phoebe would stay on as one of Noire’s many flings and occasional temporary consorts.
The bedroom, which they arrived at after some light dawdling, was glamourous. The four-poster bed was massive for luxury with an equally luscious coffin next to it for health and wellness, the adjoining hot tub was already gently fizzling with a magical bubble bath, and the drapery across an opening that lead out to a spacious balcony was a work of art. Noire used this bedroom often for brief trysts, chances for debauchery and, to be quite frank, she was a great lay. As Noire admired the room, Phoebe smashed her fist against her face.
Noire stumbled back, dazed more than anything, and looked down at the vice grip Phoebe had on her arm. A pair of wooden shackles dangled from some sort of small bag (a goddamn expensive pocket dimension that Ajax had missed during the search) and Noire slowly realized that Phoebe was about to cuff them together.
She snatched her hand back, moving so fast that Phoebe didn’t have a moment to react, and flipped backwards. Her stiletto heels snagged on the plush rug as Phoebe came at her again, and Noire snarled under her breath as she quickly stepped out of them. Louis Vuitton would weep as Phoebe’s boot smashed one while she pressed forward. She was pulling something else out of that pouch.
She had a wooden mace. Noire growled curses under her breath as Phoebe swung the mace and the weapon whistled towards her, throwing up an arm to block it. The mace gouged into her arm, spikes sticking true and splintering. Noire howled, and in an instant, became a bleeding bat.
She flapped toward the hallway, diving under more strikes from Phoebe until a stake flew true. It stabbed into the paper-thin, velvety skin of Noire’s wing and she dropped to the ground like a fly. She transformed, ripping the stake from her body as she crouched down. Phoebe attempted to block with the mace, but it didn’t work as Noire soared like a rocket towards her, headbutting her directly in the chest and plunging the stake into her stomach. Phoebe grunted with pain and doubled over, Noire forcing her to the ground and planting her knees along her sides.
Noire ripped the mace from Phoebe’s hands, and threw it towards the balcony. It sailed away. The blood from Phoebe’s stomach wound was bountiful and gorgeous, saliva building in Noire’s mouth as she stared down at her prey. Her fangs popped out as she hissed at Phoebe.
“Are you less than an animal now, Nora?” Phoebe grunted, staring directly into Noire’s eyes. “I’ve come to take you home.”
Nora. Noire felt some secret truth click into place. She found herself curling a lock of Phoebe’s graying-red hair around one of her long red nails. She couldn’t help but believe the outlandish idea that this woman knew her before her transformation. Desperately in a sad pale part of her she had hoped that someone would waltz into her life and claim knowledge of her. It would at least mean that someone hadn’t been related to her and had cared. Besides that, the chances of someone knowing a name that seemed so right seemed too large of a coincidence to be one. The words spilled out despite herself, much like the action of pressing her bleeding arm to Phoebe’s stomach wound. The vampiric blood wouldn’t completely heal the injury, but she’d stop gushing all over the place. “How did you know me? When did we meet? How did you realize what happened to me?”
“Childhood friends, age eight, you disappeared after a vampire came to call at our village.” Phoebe said, eyes glazing over with pain as her bleeding began to halt but the stake remained inside her. Too dangerous to rip it out and actually kill her. “I’ve been taking life-extending potions for fifty years trying to find you.”
Noire slowly got off of Phoebe, who moved slowly and gingerly to avoid irritating the wound further. She’d need medical treatment soon, but judging from the way she was handling the pain, Noire did not think it was the first time she’d been stabbed.
Noire sat back. All her attention was fixed on Phoebe. “So. What happened?” Noire asked.
“You always wanted more than I did. As soon as creatures started showing themselves to humans, you were obsessed. You wanted to leave and become something other than human so badly, but you stayed for a time. Then a vampire came to call, and you accepted in a heartbeat. I didn’t know what was happening or why you disappeared until you came home yourself and woke up as someone else. And you left me.” Phoebe was quiet and tense and terse. “You left me to kill and eat people, you ass.”
“I see. And you’ve never killed?”
“No! It’s barbaric for you and your kind to sit there and act sophisticated when I had to take down a child in order to see you at all in private,” Phoebe snarled, “and I was so disappointed that you wasted your time as a creature just to be a menace to other humans!”
“What goes into a life-extending potion, Phoebe? You really want to sit there and act like you haven’t been forced to kill my fellow creatures to make them? And I’ll have you know that my children have been worth every minute of being a vampire. I never . . .”
“Oh, don’t sit there and tell me you’ve had the best, most perfect morals in the world. Vampires kill to exist. You just wanted a pretty castle to lord over your meek little subjects. Everything our village didn’t give you!” Phoebe shot back.
“Do you want me to apologize, Phoebe, for wanting to be a ruler? Did you really think a peasant could ever affect society? I’m the fucking vampire queen. Every single vampire in the world answers to me. I reformed the traditional system of blood-taking, but if I wanted to, I could drain you right now and never have to think about you again,” Noire said, baring her fangs at Phoebe.
“Well then,” Phoebe replied, face falling, “I guess you really are an animal now.”
They sat there. In that awful silence between someone from the past and someone from the future.
“How,” Noire asked, “did you learn how to kill vampires?”
“Practice,” Phoebe answered.
Noire stared at Phoebe. That red hair and those dull blue eyes. She was pretty, she had to admit. Phoebe had crow’s feet and laugh lines and a creased forehead and little sun spots and freckles. Noire felt a brief prickle of jealousy at her own blankly porcelain skin, for the first time in years. What, she allowed herself to consider, did it mean that Phoebe had rejected human death to find her?
“Was the plan to kill me if I had changed too much?” Noire asked. She wanted to hear Phoebe say it.
“Yes,” Phoebe stated. “You changed more than I’d hoped. But I remember how you embroidered all of your clothing, and mine. You said that if we couldn’t afford silks, we had to look nice somehow.” Phoebe drew Noire’s gaze by tapping at one of the sleeves of this dull brown shirt. Noire realized there was a small bundle of light blue flowers around the hems. She reached forward, touched the flowers. They felt like a little woven promise. She searched her mind like a frantic scholar, but found the memory had completely vanished. She felt the ache of amnesia like a stake to the heart for the first time.
“You said,” Phoebe continued, “that the blue matched my eyes. Nora—”
“Don’t call me that!” Noire snapped. “My name is Noire.” She dropped the sleeve like a burning coal. “I’m not your Nora anymore. I’m not your anything. I’m just the evil vampire in a gorgeous castle that you came here to kill.”
Phoebe took her in. She reached forward and tucked a lock of hair behind Noire’s ear. If Noire had a pulse, it would have skipped a beat. “You always got upset with me if I didn’t listen to you when we fought. But I could calm you with a touch. And then we’d apologize by making something.”
Noire sighed, long and languid. She pulled Phoebe to her, indulged in a moment that was almost an embrace before scooping her into her arms and standing. Phoebe let out another grunt. “Careful, there, I still have arthritis.”
“Don’t be such a crybaby. We both need medical attention before we talk more.” Noire scoffed, “Besides, you’re the one who tried to kill a delicate lady and punched my beautiful nose. What will my sons think?”
“I could take them in a fight,” Phoebe said.
Noire picked her way across the room, avoiding debris. “You’d lose.”
“Didn’t you hear? I won the vampire queen’s tournament and managed to seduce her.”
“Seduction. You didn’t even get to kiss me.”
Phoebe puckered up in a disgusting approximation of kissing. “Go on, then, I’m a gentleman.”
Noire couldn’t resist and snuck a peck. Phoebe’s mouth turned into a little "O" of surprise.
“You know,” Noire whispered, “I wouldn’t have left the village because of you. You would’ve been the only reason I wanted to stay.”
Noire watched the wrinkles on Phoebe’s face widen with delight.
Leah Voithoffer holds a BA in English with a minor in Film and Media Studies from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, acquired in May of this year. She adores LGBT+ fantasy and devours books of this nature in her sleep. She has been previously published in Avatar, the SMCM literary magazine. She is constantly thinking about her next work, and is currently writing a gothic novel.