Once upon a time, there was a girl named Em.
She lived in a castle along with her six other brothers and sisters. Everyone got along with each other except with her because she was different. She was born with a birthmark, big and pale, that mapped itself from her neck down to her shoulder. “It’s the devil’s child,” they’d call her. “She’s been marked by the devil!”
The only time they ever played with her was at Em’s expense. They would lunge at her and reel back just as fast, to see who got closest without touching her. Once, Em tried to grab them back, but when she did, they screamed and stared at her as if she was a monster. She never played with them again and avoided them altogether. Many years went by and her oldest brother was eighteen and he was sent off to another kingdom. “He’s such a good son,” her parents would say. “He’ll do great things for the country.” Em didn’t know there were other countries in the world and listened intently whenever she could. As long as she was quiet, and stayed out of their way, she could listen for as long as she liked because her parents didn’t care for her anyway.
Then there was her fifth sibling, who was married to a prince at sixteen and she was sent off to live in his castle. Em wondered if she’d be married off too someday… And so, one after the other, her siblings left the castle until she was the only one left. She thought, maybe now mum and dad will pay attention to me, sense I’m all they got? She tried getting their attention by singing and playing the piano but they would just send one of the maids and drag her away. “They are very busy,” the maid would say.
Soon, Em stopped trying to make them notice her and stayed in her room, where everyone preferred her anyway. All day she’d read or sing or play the piano. Other days she’d just sit by the window and look as the world moved on without her, dreaming of being sent away one day. The only time she ever left her room was when everyone was asleep and she had the whole castle to herself. Unfortunately, the castle was very dark at night and she would jump at every suspicious sound, or shadow. She was especially frightened near the kitchen where she heard strange moans at night. She asked her father for a lantern but he wouldn’t give it to her. “What would you need a lantern for anyway? He asked. But Em wouldn’t say, fearing he’d lock her up if he knew what she was up to. Then one night, she saw something glowing in the dark. It was a lit lantern that was resting outside the kitchen door. Pleased with her find, she snatched it and ran back to her room, never considering it might belong to somebody esle. The next morning, two servants were fired and the noise from the kitchen went away.
Many years later (when she was twelve) after coming home from one of her nightly adventures, there was an old lady waiting in her room. Em almost dropped the lantern because she thought it was some sort of goblin that had followed her. But as the creature turned, Em could see it was a person smiling. Her name was Emma, which was funny because that’s what Em always thought her own name would be if her parents had bothered finishing it.
As it turned out, Emma was very kind and she’d stay with Em all day long telling stories or brushing her hair. “I’m so glad you are here,” Em said. “I don’t ever have to leave my room and feel lonely again.”
“Oh? Why wouldn’t you want to leave? The night is yours, nobody is gonna hurt you.”
Em scratched her neck. “I don’t really like the dark,” she said.
Emma put down the brush and said. “Have you ever heard about Vampires?”
Em shook her head.
“They are tall and handsome creatures of the night and they got their eyes on you. They’ll come for you, one day, when you are ready.”
Em jittered out of her chair. “Me? Why?!”
Emma caressed Em’s neck which didn’t help to sooth her because nobody had dared touch her there before. “They’ll protect you because they know you’ll do great things. That’s why everyone is afraid of you,” she said.
Em thought about it. “Everyone? Even monsters?”
Emma smiled. “Even monsters.”
“But then… Why aren’t you afraid of me?”
The old woman quirked her mouth. “I’m too old to be scared of death.”
When Em was left alone, she thought about what had been said. If everyone was afraid of her she could do whatever she wanted! That very same night she went without her lantern. She knew the castle by heart and at first, she was scared without it but as her eyes got used to the darkness she became more confident. She even went to the tower at the abandoned part of the castle, where the Wraith is said to wander up and down the stairs. And lo and behold, she came back without being hurt! Ever since then, the night became hers and she would sometimes frighten others that walked the dark. Sometimes she would even eves-drop on her father’s meetings which she wasn’t supposed to hear: apparently, things weren’t going well for her oldest brother in the other kingdom and rumour had it he’d been captured and locked in a prison somewhere. For some reason, this amused Em, thinking of her siblings being locked away in a dark cell with nobody to talk to and she secretly wished all her siblings shared the same fate.
Two years went by and she was fourteen. She was looking out the window when a mysterious carriage drove up to the door. Excited, she snuck downstairs to have a listen. It was an old man in his 40s that came through the door. He had a large beard and a dreary look about him. Her father frowned as he stepped inside and didn’t seem too pleased to see him. They went into the parlour where her father always had his secret meetings. Em climbed stealthily down the stairs, relying on the dark to hide her, but then the stranger suddenly turned and stared straight at her. Her heart froze and she shot back. He couldn’t have seen her in the dark, could he? She went back to have a look but they were gone. Em was too nervous to go closer and it didn’t feel safe sneaking into her father’s meeting. She decided to go back to bed where she lay awake, wondering who the stranger was and what he wanted.
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