Yveine felt the flesh of her bandaged skin begin to writhe.
“Patience, patience, little one…” She cooed, holding her hands to her mouth and humming until the pulsing stopped. Satisfied it was calm, she continued along the cobbled road.
On either side of her stood cottages, their doors closed with red marks emblazoned on the front. Rats skittered along the edge of the walls, outrun only by the occasional buzzing fly. The street itself was quiet, but just a step towards one of those doors allowed the sound of crying, coughing and vomiting to penetrate the silence.
Yveine smiled behind the scarf covering her face, running a tongue over her retracted fangs as she turned towards a cottage set slightly apart from the rest. There was no mark on this door and far fewer rats congregated here.
The plague had not yet touched this house.
She knocked, waiting patiently while the sound of footsteps grew louder, soon followed by the door creaking open.
“Hello? How can… I… help…”
Yveine noticed the uncertainty in the middle-aged woman’s face, saw the green eyes flicker to take in every strange detail of her body.
Her ragged dress and worn boots.
Her hooded head.
Her bloodshot eyes.
“I beg your forgiveness for the intrusion,” Yveine began, her voice low and raspy. “I’ve been volunteering with the stricken this morning and we were told you are one of the few households with an uncontaminated well.” She reached into a filthy satchel at her side, pulling out a glass bottle before continuing “I was hoping, if it’s not too much trouble, that I could take some clean water back? Even a little could help, though I understand it’s a lot to ask…”
The woman’s eyes had softened the moment Yveine began speaking, and now she threw the door open and was ushering her in.
“Of course, of course, my dear girl! Come inside and I’ll draw some water straight away.”
“Thank you so much, miss…?”
“Yveine. Bless you for this kindness, I do not mean to be a burden…”
“No burden at all,, child.” Dorothy crooned, her eyes creasing with the width of her smile. “And it’s you who should be blessed for helping at such a dark time. Now, you take a seat here by the fire; I’ll get the water.” Yveine let Dorothy push her onto a stool, watching her dash towards a back door as she muttered “Such a kind soul… true saint…”
Once Dorothy was out of sight, Yveine looked around the cottage.
The interior was comprised of one big room, with a kitchen area at the back and a narrow set of stairs, presumably leading up to a bedroom. It was clean by peasant standards, though cramped with furniture and possessions. She lowered the scarf a little, exposing a criss-cross of faded lesions on her cheek, and sniffed the air, catching the scent of another human; likely an adult. Her ears twitched with the sound of chickens, another sign that the house was healthy; nowhere else in the district was suitable to care for animals anymore.
“No trace of the infection anywhere…” She murmured with a smile. “… not yet.”
Her flesh writhed again, giving off a faint squelch. Yveine put down the glass bottle, humming to her hand once more.
“Who the hell are you?!”
Her head snapped up at the sound of an angry male voice, its owner stood at the bottom of the stairs. The rough, work-worn features contorted as he glared at her with eyes of thunder.
“Hello sir.” Yveine said pleasantly.
“Don’t you ‘hello’ me! Who are you and what are you doing in my house?!” Stalking towards her with a vein visibly throbbing on his forehead. “You’d better start talking or I’ll-”
“Johnathan!” Dorothy had returned, heaving a bucket of water. She put the bucket down and glowered at the man. “That’s no way to speak to a guest!”
Johnathan turned to his wife with wide eyes, the tone of his voice raising in pitch as he exclaimed “Guest? Guest?! Can’t you see the state of her? Who knows what infection those bandages are hiding!”
“She has been helping the stricken dear; clearly she is covered like that to protect herself. It’s no different to what the doctors have been wearing.”
“That is no excuse! You see the mess on her face, right?” He yelled, pointing at Yveine as he did so. “We don’t know how bad the plague gets or what it does to your body! For all we know she could-”
“If I may…” Yveine said, her quiet voice cutting through the argument. “I understand your concern, but I think I can assuage it.” She pulled the scarf down further, showing the full extent of the marks running along her cheeks and neck, all originating from a thick patch of scarred tissue surrounding two puncture holes.
Dorothy gasped, her hand flying to her mouth in horror.
Johnathan’s face did not change, though his clenched fists began to slacken just a little.
“A few years ago, I was attacked and bitten by a wild animal; my wounds never healed properly. However, I can assure you that the scars are just from that, I have no trace of the infection in my body at all. Dorothy is right, I cover myself to prevent it spreading further.” She cast her eyes to the ground, allowing her voice to become small and meek. “I apologise if my deformity is disturbing to you. I have no wish to cause strife between you, so perhaps it would be better if I-”
“No!” Dorothy quickly exclaimed, rushing over to clasp Yveine’s hands in her own. “Dear girl, there is no need to leave! Please forgive my husband’s harsh words; he meant no offence.” Johnathan grunted, earning another glare from Dorothy before she continued “I am sure you understand, we are all a little on edge during these trying times. But however bad things get, kindness should never be ignored.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” Yveine responded, giving a warm smile first to Dorothy and then to Johnathan, who still looked at her suspiciously.
He opened his mouth, as if to say something else, but was interrupted by the distant toll of a bell. All three of them looked at the window, listening as the bell rang once… twice… seven times in total.
“God, I thought I’d have longer.” Johnathan sighed deeply, turning away and walking towards the kitchen area.
“Do you have to go again so soon? You’ve barely had time to rest.”
“I have to Dorothy, with so few of us working it’s a wonder the town doesn’t fall apart. Not that the mayor even notices his workers dropping like flies; as long as it ticks who cares about the cogs. I’ll try to get home as soon as I can.” He grabbed a coat from one of the chairs, returning to kiss his wife on the cheek before glancing back at Yveine. “I… I apologise for my rudeness, Miss. But I won’t tolerate any threat to my wife’s safety.”
“I can assure you I will not trouble her for long.”
His dark eyes narrowed, and he grit his teeth before turning towards the door and leaving the two women alone. Dorothy gazed after him, her eyes beginning to shimmer with barely contained tears.
“He’s been under a lot of stress… we all have…” Dorothy sniffed and smiled, picking up Yveine’s bottle as she continued “Well, let’s get that water for you.” She dipped the bottle into the bucket, waiting a few minutes before drawing it out and replacing the stopper. “There we go, are you sure that’s enough?”
“It may not seem much, but this will make a great difference; I could not ask any more of you.”
“All the same, you’re going to such trouble for those poor wretches. It must be exhausting work. Is there nothing I can do? Nothing I can get you?”
Yveine placed the now full bottle in her satchel, hesitating a moment before looking back at Dorothy. “I would hate to impose on you further, you’ve already done so much, but… I am rather thirsty myself.”
Dorothy smiled wider, walking over to the kitchen to grab a ladle before returning to the bucket, dipping it into the cold water and holding it up.
Yveine reached out, but instead of taking the ladle her fingers stretched out to rest upon Dorothy’s cheek. This elicited a small squeak of confusion from the woman, her eyes now staring at the bandages touching her skin.
They began to pulsate.
Slow at first but then more aggressively, moving up along the bandages before disappearing under tattered sleeves. Dorothy watched it, eyes growing wider and wider as the motion moved up Yveine’s neck, trailing along the throbbing lesions.
Black trickled from one of the scars.
The ladle clattered to the floor.
Taking advantage of this distraction, Yveine grabbed a fistful of hair and yanked back Dorothy’s head. Her fangs extended and quickly sunk into the exposed flesh, while her free hand moved to silence the woman’s screams. For a few blissful moments she felt blood beginning to pump into her mouth, her tongue instinctively flicking to encourage the flow down her throat. She sucked greedily at the wound. The sweet, metallic taste of life was intoxicating; already she could feel Dorothy’s body going limp in her grasp.
She wished she could enjoy it longer.
The sweetness gave way to a bitter, viscous liquid now pooling from her gums. It moved like a sentient mass of tar, forcing itself past her fangs and wriggling deep under the skin, creating a spider-web of black veins across Dorothy’s neck. Yveine shuddered, struggling to keep her grip on the woman as her stomach retched violently. Her insides were trying to expel the liquid faster while also fighting to retain every drop of blood. Tears streamed down her undulating cheeks, her head began to throb, and her vision grew spotty.
She let go.
The unconscious woman fell from her grasp, thumping loudly against the floor.
Gasping for breath she didn’t need, the vampire coughed a few dregs of blackness out onto the ground; they wriggled away like leeches.
“Ah… ah… ah… always s… so eager…. aren’t you, little one?”
A wet, squelching sound was her response, shortly accompanied by the thickest of her face lesions starting to swell. It wriggled, uncoiling until it hovered in front of her; a faceless snake with a glistening black underbelly. The newly exposed crevices in her skin were filled with viscera, also stained with the same inky blackness.
Yveine watched the creature, eyes following as it lazily swayed from side to side.
“Yes, yes, I know you are happy…” She croaked. Her legs began to tremble, and she allowed herself to sink to the floor. “But you’re very selfish.”
The skin-snake twisted, mimicking a dog cocking its head.
“You are. I would like to enjoy at least one meal without vomiting.”
It curled in on itself, creating another sickly squelch. Then it slithered forward and nuzzled her torn cheek. Yveine stroked it absent-mindedly, her gaze drifting towards Dorothy’s unconscious body.
Already the black veins were fading until they were barely visible; a sign the infection was seeping deep into her blood. She convulsed a few times but did not stir and would be unlikely to do so for at least the next hour. The symptoms would not hit immediately; from what she had observed it took a few days for them to become noticeable.
First the cough.
Then the bile.
A fever last.
And Dorothy would be dead in less than a week.
“That’s it.” She mused, still stroking the creature as she added “This is the last house in the district. Everything here… is your playground.”
With wet hiss it pulled away from her hand, aggressively flicking towards the door.
“The husband? He’ll pick it up from her; no need to waste our time there.”
A quick succession of squelches.
“Don’t get testy little one.” Her tone was mockingly maternal. “No new toys until your old ones have broken. Besides…” She looked down at her satchel with a crooked smile. “We still haven’t finished tending to those… what did Dorothy call them? Ah yes, those poor… poor wretches….”
The creature was still for just a moment, as if considering her words. Then it moved forwards, following the grooves along her face, and refilling every gap it had created. Within a few moments it was safely nestled within her flesh; no one would guess it was anything other than an old scar.
Yveine stood up, giving her numb legs a shake to wake them up. She pulled out an old handkerchief, lightly wiping the blood and blackness from her skin. Her feet took her to the door, but she stopped with her hand on the knob, looking back at the woman breathing shallowly on the floor.
“Thank you, Dorothy… you’ve done so much to help the plague.”
Also available on itch.io – https://anmanarrative.itch.io/carrier
I started writing this story ages ago but only finished it today.
My general interest in vampires partly inspired this, but the main inspiration was the game Pathologic by Ice-Pick Lodge. It is a very stressful game to play but I love it, and I really like the way the plague is sometimes portrayed as sentient so wanted to take my own crack at that idea. What got me to finish this are the three amazing Pathologic analysis videos by hbomberguy, SulMatul and RagnarRox (RagnarRox’s video is actually one of the first things to inspire this story).
And yes I am shamelessly promoting these videos because they are incredible and everyone needs to watch them.
SulMatul – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKhSbZPBEKc