Dante Rising: the Birth of a Venator (A Dark Brethren short story)

Dante Rising

The Birth of a Venator

Also By Tracey O’Hara

Dark Brethren Novels

Night’s Cold Kiss

Death’s Sweet Embrace

Sin’s Dark Caress

 

 

Cover Art By HelzKat Designs

http://www.helzkatdesigns.com

 

Rural France 16 years ago

Antoinette sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes as she look around the darkened bedroom. She tilted her head and listened carefully for the noise that woke her. But there was nothing above the gentle spring rain pitter-pattering against the bedroom window and her little brother, Nici’s, soft, steady breathing beside her. He was such a pain when awake, but looked so sweet asleep. With arms thrown above his head and his left leg sticking out from under the covers, pajama bottoms pushed up just above the knee. She smiled and pulled the quilt up to cover him.

Down the hall, Grammie’s snores rattled through the house. She was used to the snorting gargle her grandmother made. It wouldn’t have woken her.

Then it came again—a distinct knocking from downstairs. The front door.

Someone’s here
.

Suddenly she was fully awake. Little bubbles of happiness tickled the inside of her tummy as the old clock downstairs chimed two. Today was her birthday. Her sixth birthday. And Papa had promised her a new puppy.

The knocking noise came again.

Papa’s home. But why would he knock on the door?

Excitement pushed the doubt out of her head. It had to be Papa, It just had to be. 

The trick would be reaching him before Mama caught her out of bed. Papa would let her have the puppy now. She knew he would. And he’d let her stay up—maybe even share a cup of warm milk or even cocoa. After all, it was her birthday.

She quickly clamped her hand over her mouth to catch the giggle before it escaped, but only managed to muffle it. Nici murmured something in his sleep, and kicked off the covers again. He lay sprawled on his back, arms and legs everywhere.

Should I wake him?
Another excited giggle rose up her throat and she tightened her hand over her mouth.

No - he’ll just get us caught.
Besides she wanted Papa all to herself. Especially if he had the new puppy.
 

Antoinette crept out from under the covers and froze when Nici moaned. Then he rolled over and stuck his thumb back in his mouth, still asleep.

Her bare feet hit the floor and landed on something soft. The fabric body of Dolly lay under her foot and she gathered the toy baby into her arms.

“Poor Dolly,” she whispered, smoothing down the tangle of blonde curls so like her own before kissing the cold plastic face. She tucked the doll to her chest as she tiptoed across the icy wooden floor and out into the hall.

Mama will be so cross if she catches me out of bed.
But it was worth the risk. Smiling, Antoinette could just hear her father, “
Marianna, my love, don’t be mad. Come Lishka
” he’d say, using her pet name. “
Come sit on Papa’s knee and have some milk
.”

And Mama would smile that special smile—the one she kept just for Papa. It was Antoinette’s favorite. Mama was always looked more beautiful when Papa was around.

As she passed by her grandmother’s room, the bedsprings squeaked and the snoring stopped. Antoinette held her breath, praying for Grammie not to wake. Finally, after strangled gargling snort, the snoring began again. Antoinette let out a huge sigh and continued along the hall. 

Her mother’s voice carried to the top of the stairs. “
Oui, Monsieur
, please come in.”

Her heart sank.

Not Papa.

She sat down in the shadows at the top of the stairs, tucking her nightgown around her goose-bumped bare legs and hugged Dolly to her chest. It was late—too late for visitors.

Who could it be?

Her mother stood by the front door, speaking to someone Antoinette couldn’t make out.

Then, a man she’d never seen before crossed the threshold and shook out his coat on the front step. Not that it helped. Water and mud still dripped all over the stone floor in the entry hall. Antoinette sucked back her breath in horror. Grammie would have a fit. She’d click her tongue and shake her head as she looked down at the mess. The man would be in so much trouble. But Grammie was asleep and the little girl’s chest tightened at the thought. Antoinette hugged Dolly closer.

The man was tall—much taller than Papa. His hair hung in a pale wet mess, hiding his face.

“You’re so kind.” He stopped looking around the room and turned to her mother. “
Mademoiselle
is it?”

Something about him was not right. He didn’t look in her direction, but Antoinette felt a chill sweep over her.


Madame
, actually,” her mother replied. “
Madame
Petrescu.”

“Petrescu? That’s not a French name is it?” The man talked funny, but she knew English. Mama had taught her since she was little. Her Grandfather came from England.


Non, Monsieur
. My husband...he is Romanian. You are American,
oui
?” Mama waved him further into the room.

“I guess you could say that. I’m on my way to Paris, or at least I was until my car broke down.”

A shiver ran up Antoinette’s spine. He lied. He made her want to run and hide. She shrank further into the shadows.

“It is not a good night to be caught out in the weather,
Monsieur
. The rain may be light, but it still carries the touch of winter,” Mama said as she handed him a towel.

He nodded and dried his wet hair. For the first time Antoinette could see his face which was not bad to look at, but there was something about his eyes that reminded her of the crazy fox Papa shot last summer because it had something called
rabies
.

“I don’t want to intrude any longer than I have to, Madam. If you’ll just show me to your telephone I’ll be out of your hair as soon as possible.”

For a brief second, Antoinette felt his cold grey eyes settle on her then move on. She must’ve imagined it — he couldn’t possibly have seen her — not up here in the dark. But she couldn’t shake the feeling he had known she was there from the moment he walked in the door.

Antoinette moved as far back into the concealing shadows as she could while her mother showed him to the phone.

“Can I offer you something to drink,
Monsieur
?” her mother asked, wiping her hands on her apron.

“That would be divine,” he said. His voice sounded...different and a strange smile tilted his mouth on an odd angle. A puzzled expression flickered across Mama’s face, and it was gone before Antoinette could be sure. But for a brief second Mama had looked scared. Fear was not something Antoinette was used to seeing on her mother’s face.

“Well...um...I will get you something.” Mama’s voice shook. “’ot
chocolat
per’aps?”

Monsieur
ran his tongue over his lips and looked at Mama the way the barn cat looked at a mouse — just before he pounced. “That would be... lovely.”

Mama left the room as
Monsieur
picked up the phone and dialed. “It’s me. I’m here...no, it shouldn’t take too long...okay, I’ll meet you in Paris when I’m done.”

Mama came back into the room with a tray.

“Yes, that’s right, I’m at the nearby farmhouse...” The man’s voice rose slightly. “Thank you.” He hung up the phone and smiled at Mama.

“I will get some more sugar — perhaps you like it sweet?” Mama said, her eyes darting around the room.

“No need–” the stranger’s hand shot out and grabbed her mother by the wrist, “you look sweet enough.”

The tray fell to the floor with a shattering crash, sending the scalding liquid over the man’s leg though he didn’t even flinch.

“What are you doing
Monsieur
? Please, my husband will be ‘ome very soon.” Mama’s voice cracked. “No — please
Monsieur
no —
non, s’il vous plaît
.”

He didn’t seem to hear her mother’s pleas and began humming a vaguely familiar tune. This seemed to frighten Mama even more. And then he started to dance, dragging Mama with him. Slowly he twirled around the room, humming and dancing, dancing and humming. Mama hung on his arm like one of Antoinette’s rag dolls.

When he bent her into a low dip, he loosened the pins holding her mother’s bun in place. Antoinette watched as Mama’s pale hair flowed out and swept the floor. The
monsieur
bent closer and ran his tongue across Mama’s chest, which rose and fell so quickly. Mama closed her eyes tightly and bit her on her lower lip.

He stood straight, taking her mother with him then elegantly flung her away, keeping a firm grip on her hand. Antoinette watched in horror as her mother tried to pull away before he yanked her back against his chest, spinning her so they both faced the same direction. Her mother’s loose hair flung across her face with the force of the move and Antoinette heard her panting breaths from where she sat. Antoinette wanted to run to her and hit that man until let her mother go. But she couldn’t. He was too big and she was just a little girl.

The man had Mama pinned against him, and no matter how much she struggled, she couldn’t get away. Slowly he pulled away the long hair, uncovering her ear. He whispered something, her mother’s eyes widened, searching the shadows where Antoinette sat. The man held his hand out and Antoinette leaned forward slightly, just enough to bring her into the light and her mother’s sight. She hadn’t meant to move, it was like some unseen hand pulled her.

Antoinette felt the dampness on her cheek, her hot tears cooling on her cold skin as she watched the man run his long fingers across her mother’s throat.

Mama no!
Oh how she wished she could give voice to the silent screams in her mind.

Her heart beat wildly in her chest, but she remained frozen - watching. No matter how much she wanted to flee, she couldn’t move, not even to open her mouth. Helpless, so helpless. She tried desperately to cry out as icy fingers clawed across her mind.

Mama, what’s happening? Where’s Papa?

Monsieur
raised his gaze to where Antoinette sat. Their eyes locked.

“Ah,
ma chère
,” he said in her mother’s ear. “Make one sound—one little peep—and she dies.”

Mama’s eyes widened, and shook her head, her gaze never leaving Antoinette’s face. He ran his tongue up the side of Mama’s face as he took her hand and pressed it against the bulge in the front of his trousers.

The stranger opened his mouth wide. Something long and white gleamed from within. Her mother gave a sigh and bit her lip as his mouth descended on her throat.

Run,
Antoinette’s mind screamed,
run for your life
.

But one look into his mocking, lifeless eyes, Antoinette knew he was playing with her — and he liked it. He would never let her run.

Grammie snorted loudly behind her, giving Antoinette a start, but it didn’t release the hold the stranger had over her. She could only watch her mother’s torment. Then he stopped. Antoinette’s body stood on its own, her mind struggling to gain control as she descended one step. Mama’s eyes widened, the terror in her expression deepened and she mouthed, “Run”. But Antoinette couldn’t.

A thin trickle of scarlet snaked a path across her mother’s pale skin and Antoinette’s gaze followed it. He saw it too and wiped the trail with the tip of his finger, then looked at Antoinette as he brought it to his mouth. Closing his eyes he savored the taste. With a broad grin, he reached his hand behind his back and returned holding a knife, his open eyes now fever bright. “Remember what I said – one sound and your daughter’s dead.”

Mama’s mouth opened to scream but closed it again as he slid the knife across her mother’s chest and dropped the tip to slice just above her left breast. Blood welled along the cut, he seemed mesmerized by it. He cut again. And still Mama didn’t cry out. Antoinette’s mind screamed what her mouth and mother couldn’t.

Then the smile slipped from his face and he grew a little sad. “If I only had more time,” he said. And with those words he drew blade across Mama’s throat and loosened his hold on her.

Antoinette watched her mother crumple, her hands fluttering to her throat, trying to stop the flood of dark red blood. It flowed out so fast and her mother grew pale until she fell face first on the floor, a dark pool forming around her head, soaking into her beautiful pale hair. 

Nooooooo
.

He smiled again. Vicious and hungry. He ran his tongue along the red stained blade. The smile never reached his grey-blue eyes which were the same color as the lake on a chilly winter’s day.

“Well now, Little-one,” he said, his voice was just as cold as that lake.

Her stomach clenched, a bitter, burning taste rose against the back of her throat and her heart constricted with each word he uttered.

“You shouldn’t be out of bed, should you? Let me sing you a lullaby.” He slowly started to advance toward her.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he gripped the banister and placed his foot on the bottom step. And started to sing to the tune he’d hummed while dancing. “
Hush little baby
.”

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