Nightmare or memory? Spooked by a dream in a way only a child can be, Margo abandons her bed and seeks her father. He’s in his office, working late as usual. But he’s not alone and isn’t expecting his daughter. The room smells of blood and Margo finds herself in a position where she is no longer immune to the truth.
A Little Taste
by Gabriel Merithew
Twigs snapped and undergrowth rustled as something large and menacing moved closer to where the quivering girl sat. She wrapped her arms tightly around her legs, drawing her knees in until they touched her forehead. The wind began to howl all around her but the air was stagnant and completely still. It wasn’t the wind that was howling, it was a wolf. She rocked back and forth, her breaths coming in short pained gasps, for she knew exactly what would happen. She’d been here before. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the howling stopped, and silence pressed over her like a heavy blanket, though she felt suffocated by its weight rather than comforted. Peeking over her knees, she stole a quick glance into the darkness and saw two glowing white eyes. Before she had a chance to draw another breath, the wolf was on top of her and pinned her to the ground. Then a warm slippery something latched itself to her arm and she experienced the odd sensation of fangs piercing her delicate skin, followed shortly after by blinding pain. She screamed and thrashed about, pummeling thin air with her fists once she’d ripped her arm free of the wolf’s mouth.
Margo sat upright with a jolt and was already halfway to the bedroom door before waking completely. Her nightgown was plastered to her back with sweat and her face was a ghost’s, pale white with wide eyes that shone like the wolf’s in the dim moonlight. She’d had the dream before and knew exactly what to do to make things better. Stepping out into the dark hallway, she tiptoed quietly along the wall, running her fingers along its cool bumpy surface to ensure she didn’t tumble over the banister. It did not occur to her at the moment that she wasn’t much taller than the banister to begin with and could not possibly have tumbled out over it.
As she reached the top of the stairs, she ran her hand up the wall to the lightswitch that she couldn’t see but knew was there. Margo flipped the switch and was bathed in the soothingly warm light from the crystal chandelier that dangled precariously by a single wire high above her. She took this opportunity to examine her aching arm and gently rubbed the thick scar that clearly showed the locations of four sealed puncture wounds from the wolf’s teeth. But the attack had happened over five years ago when she was only seven, and now as she paused at the top of the stairs and rubbed the scar, she wondered why the dream came to her again tonight after a blissful year or so of its absence. She didn’t spend any more time pondering the question though, because her father would have an answer for her when she asked him.
Her bare feet, still slightly damp with sweat made soft sticky noises as she descended the first flight of stairs, then the second, then the third, and finally emerged onto the landing and had to flip another light switch to illuminate her path. She walked quietly down the hallway, her pace getting slightly quicker and more urgent with each step. There was nothing to be afraid of in the house, she knew that, but she could see a welcoming strip of light from underneath the door to her father’s study and she longed for him to hold her in his arms and tell her everything was just fine.
Without thinking to knock, she grabbed the large brass door handle, turned it until it clicked loudly, and flung open the heavy door just in time to see her father spring to his feet and stand completely still with his back to her.
Margo stopped and stared at her father for a second, then, assuming that he hadn’t noticed her come in, she called out to him in a hopeful tone. “Daddy?”
Her father didn’t move, so neither did she. “Daddy, is everything okay?”
“Yes Angel, everything is just fine.” With his back to her, he spoke in the same cheerful tones that he always did, but having lived alone with him for so long, Margo noticed a distinct edge to his voice, though she didn’t know what it meant. “Are you okay? Did you have a bad dream?”
“Yeah…” Margo said in a small voice. “Can I have a hug please, Daddy?”
“NO!” Father said, raising his voice to a near shout. His hands twitched.
Her father had never shouted at her before, and in an instant, a tight knot solidified in the back of her throat and tears began to well up in the corners of her wide eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Angel. I just…” Father paused, then sighed long and low. His head drooped down and his whole body seemed to deflate. He spoke in a soft defeated voice, though whether he was talking to himself or to her, Margo did not know. “I really wished you’d never see me like this.”
Taking one last swipe at his face with the sleeve of his crisp blue suit, Father turned around slowly and stared into his daughter’s wet eyes, smiling sadly down at her. Most of the bottom half of his face was covered in red. A part of Margo knew exactly what the red was, but another part of her kept her from believing it. She began to shiver, her legs shook with fatigue as if she’d just run a mile. She swayed slightly but managed to stay balanced on her feet there in the middle of Father’s study.
Margo felt a single tear fall onto her cheek, but she let it continue to slide down her face until it reached her chin, then detached itself and dropped onto the polished wood floor below. Father continued to look directly into her eyes with difficulty he spoke in a soft voice as if afraid Margo was a doe who might startle easily. “Whatever happens next, please know that I love you more than anything in the whole world and I always will… No matter what.”
Margo couldn’t bear to look at her father’s stained face any longer and wrenched her gaze away, but as her gaze traveled from her father’s face to the bookcases, she’d noticed something out of place. Two bare legs and feet protruded from behind Father’s desk. Father saw her eyes grow even wider as the gravity of what she was looking at dawned on her.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so… so… sorry, Angel.” Father said, his voice almost pleading now. “I really wish you didn’t have to find out this way.”
Margo took a step backward towards the door, knowing full well that she’d never go through it without her father’s hand in hers because whatever lay beyond was far too horrible to face on her own. “Find out what?” Margo asked in a small voice, avoiding her father’s gaze.
“I will answer all of your questions completely and honestly,” Father said, beginning to walk cautiously towards his daughter, arms slightly outstretched. “But first I really need to know if you’re okay. Will you please come here? You know that I will never let anything bad happen to you.”
He drew nearer, and nearer, and Margo’s knees began to shake more vigorously still. Her eyes were open wide as if she was afraid of what might happen if she let the darkness swallow her up. She stared hard at the floor and watched as her tears fell in steady succession. When Father reached out slowly to put his hand on her shoulder, she recoiled away without moving her feet from where she’d planted them.
“Please,” Father begged. “Can’t you at least look at me?”
“Who is that?” Margo asked shakily, pointing towards the pair of legs and feet protruding from behind the desk.
Father sighed again. “That is Orion Harrison, he died yesterday in a car accident.”
“YOU SAID YOU WOULDN’T LIE!” Margo shouted, losing all control and bursting into a fit of shallow sobs.
“Hey, hey, hey, when I told you I wouldn’t lie, I was telling the truth, and I just told you the truth when I explained who that is over there. His name really is Orion Harrison and he did die in a bad car accident yesterday. I took him home from the hospital.”
“You killed him, didn’t you?” Margo asked quietly through the tears.
“No. I didn’t kill him… I,” Father began, stopped, and sighed once more, then folded his legs underneath him and sat down on the floor next to Margo. She was only a little taller than him now. “Come here.”
And Margo did. She collapsed to the floor, plunged her tear-stained face into her father’s chest, and threw her arms around him. She squeezed him as hard as she could, both trying to crush his rib cage with her twelve-year-old strength and wanting to make sure she would never have to let go of the only person in her life that mattered. She cried harder than ever, though even as she did, she wondered why she was crying. Then it became apparent that she was crying not out of sadness as she normally did, but crying out of anger that her father had withheld a secret from her, and crying with relief that her father was now pulling her in close and stroking her hair like nothing had changed.
When her sobs eased slowly into gentle gasps and then finally to near steady breathing, Father calmly told her everything. He explained in his gentle voice how he was something called a Vampire, and told her how he could only drink blood to survive instead of eating food like normal people, and that was why he often brought home corpses from the hospital where he worked or even the morgue sometimes. He explained what happened that night when they were out camping in the woods when she was four. She’d cut her arm when she fell out of the tree she’d been climbing. He’d only wanted a little taste, but had lost control momentarily and bitten her.
Father began to cry softly at this point, and his body shook slightly as he held Margo and continued to stroke her hair. He told her how after that incident he’d vowed to never hurt her again, and that he promised to uphold his vow for the rest of his life.
It was then that Margo who’d stopped crying and slightly loosened her grip on her father spoke softly for the first time in what felt like an eternity. “Why did you never tell me? You shouldn’t keep secrets, you know.”
Father let out a choked chuckle and squeezed her tighter for a second. “I know, Angel. But I trust you’ll understand if you ever have a child.”
“I’m not a child.”
Father chuckled again and gently ruffled her slicked hair with his long fingers. “You’re right. But I really wish you could stay little forever. I don’t want my little Angel to grow up just yet.”
Then Margo started to giggle. The sound refreshingly bright and cheery, even to her. And it felt really good. “Why do you call me Angel?”
“Well,” Father began. “I suppose because the first time I held you after you were born, I looked down at your tiny face and I saw an angel staring back at me… Let’s get up off the floor, okay. Up we go!”
Father lifted Margo up under her arms and placed her squarely on her feet, but still held onto her. “I don’t want to go back to bed…” Margo said, matter of factly.
“No, I don’t suppose you would…” Father said, his tone slightly amused. He turned and looked down into his daughter’s shiny face and she looked up into his. “How about I make you a cup of cocoa and we can snuggle up in the living room?”
Margo opened her mouth to speak but her gaze had once again traveled to the pair of legs and feet. She detached herself from Father and he let her go. Curiously and cautiously, she rounded the desk and stared at the dead man lying face down on the floor, dark blood gently seeping from a clean slit in his neck.
Margo felt her stomach rumble. “Can I have a little taste?”