Content warning: violence, domestic abuse, and strong language.
Peggy awoke to the rumbling of a car and a bitter wind on her face. Opening her heavy eyes, she was greeted by the sight of stars up above. Her head rested at a painful angle on the top of the seat, nothing but the bright red of the convertible car chassis behind her. She lifted her head, groaning.
Those around her noticed: one burly, tattooed man to her side, and a faceless female driver to her front. Her vision blurred, fading in and out as she attempted to keep her head stable. Diagonal from her was the awful grin of Nicolas himself. Peggy quickly remembered where she was. Peggy’s bloodied brown hair ensnared her with every corner the car executed, the screech of tyres piercing her ears as the vehicle raced at speeds the local neighbourhood watch would faint over.
“How far?” Nicolas asked, abandoning his American façade for good. He was not staring at his long-haired driver. Instead, he studied Peggy, a cigarette hanging from his lips as he contorted in his seat to face her.
“Not much farther, my lord,” the driver replied, pointing her head to a passing road sign that Peggy didn’t catch.
Her bones were tired, her muscles ached, and every sense she had was dialled to one hundred, shooting through her scrambled mind. Her nostrils filled with the pungent stench of cigarettes, the colour of the cream-white seats in front of her somehow saturated despite the darkness of the night. She opened her mouth to speak, to say something clever to her captor like Maria would have done, but no sound came out. Her throat constricted, dry as a desert, and Peggy thirsted in a way she had never done before.
Nicolas leaned forward, patting at Peggy’s cold face. She raised a hand to bat him away – shocked that she was unrestrained – but he snatched his hand back to safety.
“Not looking too good, Peggy,” Nicolas drawled.
Hilarious. Of course she didn’t – hours of torture and a bizarre blood ritual tend to do that to a person. Peggy shot him a glare; whether it was menacing at all, she had no idea.
“And what a nice neighbourhood you got here. I know folks that would kill for this kind of life. The white picket fences, the fancy cars. Not as nice as this baby, obviously.” He tapped affectionately on the car dashboard. “Word from the bird says this place could use a little… chaos.”
“This is your stop, Mrs Nelson,” the henchman to her side whispered, the sound of the saliva swirling in his mouth disgustingly close to her ear.
He leaned over and buried her with his crushing frame. The door to her side clicked open, and with an unceremonious shove, she was launched from the car. She rolled, and tumbled, and rolled some more. The sputtering of the car faded with distance after every rotation, and ceased altogether when she finally came to a halt.
Snow. Crisp, white snow. It was warmer than Peggy remembered, softer on the bare skin of her knees and hands. Wasn’t it supposed to be cold? A sharp pain even the most resilient of men could not withstand? But, even if she did complain, did grunt and yell at the needles in her fingers, nothing compared to the rancid taste of metal in her mouth. Bile rose within her — once, twice, three times, then a fourth, and Peggy failed to rise from the ground. Raising her hands in front of her, she trembled, the sludge squatting in her veins singing some awful sweet swan song, directing her forwards, onwards.
Get up, it screamed. Go, it commanded. She rose. She stumbled. But, still, she moved, dragging one bloodied foot behind the other, a trail of zig-zagging red in her wake as the moonlight beat down on their quiet little street.
She tripped down a curb, missing its edge as it drowned underneath layers of snow, and wrapped her hand around the pole of the stop sign. It was a stark crimson, almost garish against the pearl white flakes on the floor and in the trees — it’s only companion in the deserted street was her. But she knew the stop sign, knew the motions, the way home. Home was ahead. Right there. Within reach. Johnny would help her, yes, she knew it. Her husband, her protector — he had said so himself.
She half-crashed through the spotless picket gate, allowing it to clash against the wood. She left it open, uncaring, as she focused her attention on her front door, on the brass knob she had turned a thousand times before. The lights were on, the soft thrum of the radio murmuring in one of the rooms, and through the window with the curtains he always forgot to shut, was Johnny.
“Johnny,” she croaked, but her voice was no more than a whisper. “Help me.”
Peggy collapsed towards the door, her matted hair clinging to her forehead, her brow coming to rest on the powder blue wood. The door handle was there, right there, within reach. She lifted her hand with a grunt, every muscle in her arm rigid and sore — as if the weight of a car hung around her fingers.
“Let me in,” she whispered, a feeble command to the door, and flicked her wrist. It didn’t turn. It slipped in her grasp, over and over again, frustration welling in every part of her body. She shoved against the door, demanding that it open, but it stood sentinel, refusing her entry into her own home. A muffle sounded out through the door.
“Peggy?” Yes, she wanted to cry out, it’s me, come get me, please let me in, but only a garbled sob left her lips, and the door swung open at the sound. “Peggy, where the hell have you been? What’s the matter with you?”
His words were daggers, sharper than she was used to. She looked him up and down, drank him in, and saw nothing but unbridled rage — clenched fists, unshaven jaw, a work suit which had not been ironed in days. Where have you been, she saw his lips contort to say again, but she could not hear him. Not anymore. From the threshold, Peggy stared, listened. Dum. Dum-Dum. Dum. Dum-Dum. A beat, soft yet powerful; it was a tune that Peggy wished to listen to all day and devour like a meal, to savour like his parents’ most vintage bottle of wine. She was so drunk on it, standing motionless at her own front door, that her blurry eyes moved from Johnny’s and pulled down to his neck. A caress. That’s what he needed. The feel of her hand upon his soft throat, every inch of his neck covered in blotted red, on the floor, dea-
What was she doing? She reached out for him, desperate for his touch, some comfort, but invisible chains held her back and kept her from crossing the wooden slab that marked the threshold.
“Well, aren’t you going to invite me in, dear?”
Peggy smiled at the thought of Maria’s coy self-invitation, her red lips smirking as she accepted, taking her first steps inside her house. Her gateway to eternal entry.
“I need to come in,” Peggy whispered, swaying in her spot, the buzz of the porch light bothering her — blocking the ballad thumping mere centimetres from her grasp. Perhaps she had grown a second head, she realised, as Johnny’s face screwed up in disbelief.
“Then come in, you stupid woman.”
The chains snapped.
She shoved past him, tripping on the rug, stumbling into the sideboard, the silver-blue vase teetering on the edge. Johnny yelled, but she was no longer listening, no longer doing as she was told. Battering into the kitchen, its cabinets dancing around her, she crammed her head under the bend of the sink tap and let the water descend. It did nothing to clear the rotten taste dwelling in her mouth, the decomposing blood refusing to leave her system. There was no satisfaction, no cleansing.
“Have you lost your damn mind?” Johnny spat at her. “And where are your glasses? Your goddamn shoes?” Two shaking fingers flashed to the bridge of her nose, to her ears, and found it barren. Johnny’s hand clawed around her aching shoulder, ripping her from the sink and straight into the eyes of a very, very furious man. Capturing her between the counter and his body, her legs half-bent, not quite holding her up, he held her stare for a second, maybe more, searching for… something. He did not find it. “You’re covered in-” Johnny tugged at the stains in her pearl dress. “Blood?”
Peggy looked down, noting the way it had splattered on her dress — evidence of Nicolas’ torture that had already faded away. Bruises and brandings, blisters and cuts: none of it had remained on her skin when she had emerged into the night.
A hand flashed in front of her, then found its home curled around her bare neck. It burned — a needlepoint burrowing its way through her skin, the stench of singing flesh filling the room. She howled, thrashing backwards out of his grip and flush with the counter. She shoved, her arms locking straight into Johnny’s square chest with a strength she had never known. He lost his grasp as he launched backwards, taking unnatural flight through the stale kitchen air, and crashed into the oak sideboard. Free of him for a moment, she cradled her neck, gasping with every sharp intake of breath. Her teary eyes landed on her attacker’s weapon.
His sterling silver wedding band.
“Bitch,” Johnny yelled, wincing as he rose from the table wreckage. “How dare you,” Peggy stayed silent, nothing more than an animal down a rifle’s scope. “Come here.”
Familiar fear washed over her, shocking her into movement. Her wet bare feet squelched along the wooden flooring, each step leaving flickers of quickly melting snow. Johnny roared as she ascended, choosing the stairs as she had always done before. Don’t take it outside, dear, his mother’s withered lips had said.
Her bedroom. She clicked one of their many lamps on, illuminating the bright and patterned wallpaper, the rustic floorboards, the perfectly kept furniture. It was cold, and untouched — clearly vacant since Nicolas had dragged her through the window nights before. But, stopping at the foot of the cushion-covered sleigh bed, Peggy’s face sunk. Perhaps, he cared, after all. Perhaps, he hadn’t been able to sleep. She chewed her lip, her eyes narrowing. Perhaps he hadn’t been here at all.
“Get back here,” he said as he barged through the door, almost taking it off its hinges. “Do you think you’re tough? Pushing me?”
“No,” Peggy replied. Yes. “It was an accident.”
“Don’t you fucking lie to me, I know when you’re lying.” He circled her, pushing himself against her back, swallowing her whole. Peggy glanced towards the open door. “You’re going to make it up to me. Like you should.”
The untouched covers in front of them stared at her as Johnny’s hand crawled up her waist. Every strike, every punch and kick and slap, bruised in that moment, aching deep in her bones. Was this what fate had always had in store for her? Was this the destiny of sweet little Margaret Hawthorne? Her blood boiled at the thought of being an ever-obedient dog, sitting at its master’s command. Pets were meant to be loved. Peggy was not meant to be a pet. And so, with a gulp, Peggy listened to someone else for a change
“Or what?” she said.
His crawling hand shot upwards, spinning her in place. He held her by the neck, squeezing tight, one leg bent and her soaking hair dripping onto the end of the bed: it was the best dip he’d ever done.
“What did you just say?” Johnny asked. She stared straight back up at him, holding him at the forearms, and smiled. “I’ll make you pay for that, bitch.”
One hand rose through the air, ready to swing.
“You will not.” Straight from her throat, a command of the blood. It rumbled through the air, chilling it. Johnny did not move, his descending hand imprisoned above his head. A spider web of veins along his forehead and hand bulged at the effort of escape, but nothing budged. With a delicate touch, Peggy pried his thick fingers from her throat and ducked away from him.
She stood there for a moment, observing him. Judging him. He was stuck as if she was still hanging from his claws, the perfect picture of an out of body experience. There was nothing but his laboured breaths, his unsteady heartbeat, the glimpse of an eye marred by tears watching her back. Peggy relished in it, the fear she once held for him slipping off her like a shawl at the sight of his frozen form.
“What… is… this?” he forced out. Was it even worth explaining? If she held him a few moments longer, his mind would be hers. Scrambling him. Destroying who he was. A servant to be seen and never heard. No. She was better than that. Better than Maria and the games she had played on the unsuspecting.
The puppet strings which held him snapped, and he dropped to his knees. He seemed so much smaller to her now, lonelier — this could be salvaged. She could change what he was like towards her, once and for all. She had just needed to bare her teeth a little.
Instead, Johnny leapt, his shirt coming untucked as he catapulted towards her. With a quick step, she missed the swing of his arm, but with another, flew straight into the path of a flying lamp. She raised her arms to shield her face, its glass shade shattering all over her, but cutting nothing. The bulb, still hot from use, kissed her skin, and the spark of its dying connection to the plug caused her to stumble backwards in pain. Something ripped from within her then: an unbridled rage. Self-preservation melted into fury, and Peggy’s vision turned into an electric red.
“You’re… some kind of devil,” Johnny said. The macho mask he wore so tightly was slipping, and fast. She roared back at him, spitting at this cowering form, and felt the bones within her face shift. And, for the first time in Johnny Nelson’s life, he fled, straight over the shattered remains of the lamp, into the door, as far as he could.
Peggy stared at the back at his head for a moment, at the blonde tresses that curled around his skull. She watched from the bedroom doorway as he threw himself down the stairs. He looked up at her, his blood pumping oh so sweetly to her shifting ears and screamed. He dodged from her sight, into her living room, and filled the house with the sharp clatter of a hundred keys that she’d never found uses for. His footsteps thundered back through the hallway, towards the side of this godforsaken house, and Peggy realised the escape he sought. One she never had the privilege to hold, to use. The car.
She moved, slowly, out onto the lit-up landing, and called the blood within her, just as she had seen Maria do before. She fell, a crimson waterfall where she stood, and reappeared mere inches from the kitchen door. Johnny’s head whipped around; his hand outstretched towards the garage side door. All the anger Peggy had drowned bubbled up to the surface, her disgust at his treatment of her etched across her face. Immortality had emboldened her. Johnny wasn’t so invincible after all.
“You,” she began, but she wasn’t sure where she was going. “You promised to protect me. In sickness and in health. For better or for worse.” Johnny froze under the weight of her wrath, one hand grasping blindly for the door behind him. “You said you loved me.”
He had no words for her, only garbled stutters, and the faint smell of piss trickling from his crotch. The white door to the garage swung open and Johnny fled into the darkness. She stalked his path across the kitchen, curling her sharpening fingers around the doorframe, and screamed once more as she stepped into the garage.
He had pulled the large metal door up from the inside, letting the light of the sleeping street flood into the room. He rocked the squeaky-clean blue car as he scrambled inside, the soft click of the door lock sounding out as she leapt forward. Her hand shot out for the vehicle’s handle, intent on wrenching it open. She saw the glint of a silver ring and then-
A thud. Then, two more. Three bullets pierced through her tattered clothes and into the skin of her torso, nothing more than a sting. She looked down as they sat there, ever-patient, murky black blood seeping from the holes instead of red. She lifted a hand to touch it and saw greyed skin in place of her usually soft hands. Huge nails had ripped through her manicured ones, yellowed and dirty, and the finger that was once home to her gold wedding band was unadorned. She saw its glimmer at her feet, discarded in her transformation.
The dying blood within her forced the small bullets back out, and they clattered to the concrete floor. In mere moments, the black sludge within her faded, hugging her skin until it turned to match her colourless tone. A sharp gasp from her shooter reminded her she had an audience. Peeling her head back up, she caught her reflection in the half-shattered window of the car. Brown hair cascaded down the face of a monstrosity: razor teeth, gaunt cheeks, and an inhuman scowl etched across her brow. Eyes, her eyes, curdled into a sickly white – no pupils or irises to be seen. The last drop of Mrs Nelson washed away.
“This isn’t love,” she howled. If it was not for her anger, she would have wept. She had known that all along.
A claw, that’s what it was now, pierced through the remains of the shot-up window and grabbed. His collar ripped as she yanked him to her, his once-mighty arms nothing compared to the strength that surged within her now. With ease, she pulled him from his metal cage and thrust him to the floor. She wanted to spit at him, to scream and yell and curse him for every day, every moment he had destroyed her. He had done it so completely. He had fashioned her in his image like the Lord above. Was this what he had expected, at the end of it all? A monster, prowling over him like the devil himself? No, she supposed it wasn’t. But it would have to do.
He kicked at her, like an ant trying to topple a tree. His scrambling was futile, and no matter how far he crawled, no matter how much he yelled, she was there, atop of him. Pale moonlight kissed her face as she yanked him to face her, to look eye to eye.
“Lord, please, have mercy on me,” he blubbered, and for a moment — just a moment — Peggy pitied him. His left hand sought her out again, but she smacked it away, breaking his little bones as she did. Peggy sunk her razor teeth into the soft skin of his neck and feasted. She tore the flesh apart; a river of thick, sweet blood running away from him, onto the floor, onto the car, and all over her face and neck. He thrashed and wailed, begging and pleading, but certainly never apologising. Peggy only stopped when his limbs came to rest and his cries had died as echoes on the wind.
Thick droplets fell from Peggy’s jaw as she rose from her well-deserved meal, and in the intense glow of the car’s headlights, a figure stood solemnly and watched.
“Peggy?” the figure whispered, and then stepped into the light. Black leather heels gave way to the hem of a red dress, and then to a black, aging coat – Maria’s coat.
Peggy sensed it. Trepidation in the air between them. Maria’s brows furrowed at the sight of her crime scene, but Peggy swore she caught a glimpse of tears welling in Maria’s eyes. Behind Maria, dogs barked, and the faint murmur of neighbours disturbed from their sleep grew as the moments passed.
“We need to go,” Maria said, offering her hand. Peggy stared back, the bloodlust within her still rolling like a tide. “Please.”
Peggy stood, the shredded torso of her dress slipping off her in places as it had adjusted to the horror of her bloodthirsty body. She could feel it calming, somewhat, her bones melting back into place, her leather skin softening with every few seconds. She looked down, intending to observe her changing body, and was greeted by the vacant eyes of her dearly beloved husband. The entire lower portion of his face was missing its skin, raw muscle poking out between the sea of blood.
She took Maria’s hand. The woman before her was shaking, expression marred by what Peggy could only fathom was worry. Of course she was worried. Of course she was afraid. Peggy had transformed into the very thing Maria had tried to protect her from.
Maria tried to draw her away, glancing behind her as lights turned on across the dark street. Peggy pulled her back, a little too harshly, and into a hug. She was warm. Soft. Peggy felt safe, even with Johnny’s face at their feet. He wasn’t going to hurt her anymore. Peggy released her, standing eye to eye with the woman she cared for. Maria caressed Peggy’s brows, soothing the harsh lines, willing the monster to disappear for today.
Peggy allowed herself to be lured away, Maria’s desperate urgency rubbing off on her. They half-ran, emerging from the darkness of the garage and onto the driveway, bathed in moonlight. Something about the night thrilled her, more than it had ever done so before. It was as if she was siphoning the stars, feeding herself drunkenly on its light. She stumbled, once, and then again, as Maria paved their path forward. One neighbour on his porch, two houses to their left, clutched at his dressing gown, and yelled at the top of his lungs about the disturbance.
“To bed,” Maria commanded, like a mother speaking to a child.
Just as Peggy had done so to Johnny, the words carried themselves down the street and demanded to be obeyed. Peggy could not hear the hellish power, the viper’s tongue, that lurked underneath, but she knew it was there. She knew what it tasted like. The man turned a perfect one-eighty and marched back into the house, neglecting to shut his door. Maria threw a concerned glance over her shoulder, awaiting Peggy’s objection to the use of her abilities as Peggy had so vehemently done before, but she said nothing.
Peggy looked back once more at the soulless structure of her house. She lingered on it for a moment as they ran, her bloodied hair getting in her face. It was well-lit, and tidy, and as quiet as a church mouse – radiating a peace she had never truly known. All was well for the Nelsons, the pretty house said. As Peggy’s gaze flickered over the opened garage door, she realised, now, it really was.
About the Author/Piece
@beccaboyess on twitter
Rebecca Boyes is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, specialising in science fiction and fantasy with the odd dabble into horror. She’s currently working on several projects, including this historical supernatural horror, and another more traditional fantasy standalone novel (she’s very indecisive). With some minor amendments, the piece shown received a first-class grade as part of her master’s course.
This extract in particular forms part of the aforementioned supernatural novel ‘Picket Fangs’ – a tale about a 1950s American housewife who accidentally becomes embroiled in a local vampire’s revenge plot (and accidentally acquires a girlfriend in the process). It marks the beginning of the story’s climax, having been preceded by Peggy’s torture, and transformation, by the vampire Nicolas.