“Poppy and Salt,” by Sarah Diemer
Celia and Alice are young vampire hunters who are falling in love with each other. But a vampire’s upsetting curse reminds them that their time together might be short.
(photo by eskimoblood)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
“Poppy and Salt”
by Sarah Diemer
“Do we have enough?”
Celia dips her hand into the bag, letting the tiny black seeds run through her fingers. The sound they make, a sweet shushing as they fall back into the bag on their brothers and sisters, is like a sigh.
“I think so…” She looks up at me, dark eyes flashing in the half-light of a setting moon. “I think we’re ready, Alice.”
“Says you,” I retort, turning up my nose to stare at the dancing constellations. It’s a bitter night, so cold the wind steals your breath. Celia lays a warm hand against my fingers, squeezes.
“It’ll be fine,” she says, grinning widely. “After all, it’s not like this is our first vampire.”
“Small comforts,” I mutter, as we begin to ascend the hill.
We left the shaggy ponies in a small valley outside of town. The vampire would smell them easier, and we needed silence. As always, though, I missed their comforting bulk, the way Rosie would nuzzle my hand for bits of carrot, her nostrils warm as blood.
“Alice, come on,” Celia hisses over her shoulder, already outpacing me. Her hands on her hips beneath the cloak, her red hair sticking out at odd angles, she looks like a slight demoness, rising above me in the dark. Surely not a creature to trifle with. I sigh, double my steps and reach her, putting my arms about her waist.
“Patience,” I whisper into her ear. She laughs against me, breath coming fast against my neck, and then she puts her hands on my cheeks and draws me down for a kiss.
As always, she tastes of blood and mint. The mint to hide the taste of blood. The blood because only a vampire is good at hunting other vampires.
She backs away, pushing her hair from her face, gazing up the hill again. “Let’s hurry and be done with this,” she whispers, elfin features puckered into a sudden frown, as if she’s head something.
“You always enjoy this,” I mutter, following her. “Why hurry?”
“Alice, come on,” she repeats, for what seems the millionth time that day. I sigh, roll my eyes, and hitch my skirts a little higher, staggering over the rocks after her. Like all her kind, she moves like shadows over the terrain. And I, the token mortal girl, struggle after her like I’m a graceless dog. I think she almost likes it that way, that my clumsiness amuses her. But she’s not paying attention to me tonight. She’s standing, nose to the wind, snffing, hand at the bag on her belt, running her fingers through the poppy seeds again.
“She’s coming,” Celia breathes, glancing down the hill, her dark eyes wide in the moon glow.
The skin on the back of my neck pricks, and I glance down the hill, too.
She crawls over the rocks like a spectacular spider, blonde hair streaming milkily over her shoulders and dragging over the ground along with her gigantic bat wings. She’s still a ways down, but I can see that she has no whites to her eyes, can see the mound of fangs dripping out of her mouth. I shudder, breathe out, feel everything else fall away.
If she flies after us, we’re done.
“Come along, darling,” Celia breathes, untying the bag from her belt, holding it out before her. “Come along home.”
A handful of blackness is in Celia’s hand as she begins to walk backward, letting the seeds fall upon the ground. I follow her quickly as Celia takes out more seeds, and more still, stalking up the hill toward the vampire’s resting place—a small cave on the western edge of the hill’s summit.
The poppy seeds fall quickly, scattering on the ground, but it doesn’t matter exactly where they lay, as long as they lead back to the vampire’s grave. I’d always thought it an old wives’ tale, really…a vampire is controlled by poppy seeds? It was said that if a trail of them led back to the vampire’s resting place, the vampire must obey them and return to its den, never to come out of it again. But the story was only half true. Poppy seeds will lure a vampire, surely.
But it’s the salt that does the final trick.
I gulp down air, hearing the vampire’s claws scrabbling on the rocks not-so-far behind us, its wings thumping in the dead air, but never truly taking flight. Celia keeps her eyes on the creature, never daring to look at me as she glances over her shoulder, trailing the poppy seeds out of her hand. I feel the bag on my own belt, tear it off as we near the great standing stones that mark the entrance to the cave. Celia enters the dark maw of it, spilling the last of the poppy seeds at the entrance, and the vampire moves past me, ignoring me as my heart thunders, dragging its body through the cavern entrance, its wings glistening and mangled, tearing over the rocks.
Blood drips on the stones behind it. I shudder, gritting my teeth. It fed in the village, then. One more victim, gone.
I breathe out, watching the entrance. I can’t seal the cave until Celia’s out. But sometimes, she cuts it far too close…
Like tonight. Celia dances out of the cave, face alight, wiping at her mouth as she laughs. “Seal it, seal it! I made her angry,” she says in a sing-song voice as the piercing scream curls out of the cavern entrance. I take a great handful of salt, breathe over it and lay it across the entrance as the vampire barrels out of the cave, the wound on its neck silver in the moonlight.
It crawls toward us and stops at the edge of the salt as it must. It hisses, more animal than human now, the blood driving it past the articulate stage into something monstrous. Celia simply laughs, throwing back her own head, throwing an arm around me.
“We did it,” she whispers,” and she’s kissing me. I swallow my disgust at the taste and gingerly peck her back as the vampire roars in front of us, and then I’m backing away, dragging her by the wrist.
“Don’t be so cocky,” I whisper over my shoulder, but she’s not watching me now. She’s looking back. Back at the vampire.
“What you do comes back to you,” the vampire growls around a mouthful of teeth. And then she’s laughing, too, dripping blood on the ground.
Celia closes her mouth, grips my hand tighter.
A cloud blocks out the moon.
On her back on the bed, red hair fanned out around her shoulders, Celia looks more like a doll than a girl. She stares up at the ceiling, unseeing, and stirs only when I kiss her too-pale cheek. She smiles at me, then, putting her arms around my neck, and I kiss her deeper…but her heart isn’t in it.
“What’s the matter?” I whisper to her, my own heart pounding against my ribs. Celia is always the reckless one, the one who never worries. That’s my job. But she seems to be taking it.
“I’m just thinking…” she sighs, sits up, draws her arms around her legs. “Do you think what we do is wrong, Alice?” she whispers then, looking up at me with wide eyes. I sit on the edge of the bed, watch her. She’s never talked like this before.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’m betraying my own kind,” she grits out, picks at the blanket beneath her with a long-fingered hand.
“You’re betraying the ones who kill people,” I remind her gently. “Who go on rampages. Who destroy entire villages…”
“I mean, we’ve gotta eat,” she sighs, leaning back on her hands. I roll my eyes, shake my head.
“There’s a difference between a willing victim…” I pat my own chest, “and a non-consensual victim. And I know you know this…” I mutter, holding up my hand to still her protests, “but it needs reminding sometimes. You’re not like them, Celia.”
She looks so young, her hair spilling about her shoulders, her wide, green eyes searching mine.
“I was, once.”
Celia runs her fingers listlessly through the poppy seeds, listening to the sound of them in the bag. Shush, shush. She bites her lip and stares out the window, watching the rainfall, the downpour as rhythmic as the seeds beneath her hands.
I kiss her forehead, but she doesn’t acknowledge me.
I had a dream last night. A nightmare, really. I sit down beside her, press my thigh against hers, my arm against hers. Feel the solidity, there. Her soft coldness.
Celia closes her eyes, tilts her head, listening.
I dreamed about the vampire I was partnered with before her. I was sixteen, then. She lasted me an entire year. Her name was Tallie, and she had short, brown hair and quiet eyes. I’d loved her so much…fiercely. I’d believed we’d be together such a long time that I’d fallen in love with her.
It was my first mistake. I’d been told by the elders not to. That a vampire in our…profession…cannot last.
She had died twelve months into our partnership. Two months into our relationship.
And then I’d been partnered with Celia.
“This one should last longer,” said one of the faceless elders. Almost as if he was sympathetic.
That was eleven months ago. We restrain one vampire, sometimes two, in an evening.
How much longer can this last?
I’ve already fallen in love with her.
I rub my eyes, breathe out. Celia rests her fingers along my arm, humming something tuneless, softly.
She runs her other hand through the poppy seeds, fingers parting them like shadows.
In this moment, we’re together.
I close my eyes, lean against her and listen.
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Sarah Diemer is an award-winning author of lesbian young adult (YA), speculative fiction. Her debut novel, The Dark Wife, the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award (first two chapters of the audiobook). She writes her lesbian adult fiction under the pen name Elora Bishop, including the Sappho’s Fables: Lesbian Fairy Tales series, which she co-writes with her wife, author Jennifer Diemer.
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