They sat at the wooden table with the chessboard between them, just as they had sat every evening for the last two years. The boy scrunched up his face and concentrated. He had never once beaten Alistair, but tonight he was close. Alistair stared at him with his piercing blue eyes, his spidery white fingers casually moving a pawn.
“You think I’m a monster, don’t you, Joshua?”
Josh didn’t answer. He pondered sacrificing his knight. Of course Alistair was a monster, how could he be anything else? Every full moon he chose a victim, a victim for his feast. And every full moon he grew stronger, so that each new victim was easier prey.
But Josh was not a monster. He was proud he had never tasted human flesh—that in the two years since he’d been turned he had quenched his hunger on the night of the full moon with rabbits and squirrels.
“Maybe I am,” said Alistair, “But there are monsters worse than me in this world. You are lucky, Joshua; lucky you have me to protect you. I was not so fortunate.” Alistair took a long breath in and exhaled slowly, “neither was my mother . . .”
I was born many centuries ago in a small village just outside of Vienna. I see you don’t believe me, Joshua, but I’m not lying. I have lived for a very long time. The flesh and blood you so disdain has nourished me for all these centuries.
My father, Klaus, was a blacksmith. He was well-respected in our village. He was courteous, hardworking, someone the villagers could rely upon. He fashioned their horseshoes, molded their weapons, and mended their cooking pots. He was paid well for his services; we never went without the essentials, or the luxuries of the day for that matter. But my father was greedy. He wanted more and was always devising ways in which to outsmart his neighbors. He bent over backwards to please them, while at the same time taking their best wine and meats.
But once our door closed for the night, the façade was dropped, and he showed us, his family, his true colors—the evil that lurked beneath his smiling surface. He detested the other villagers, but knew he needed to ingratiate himself to gather their gold. But not so with us; at home he was the master and his word was law, and the slightest infraction of that law lead to terrible punishments.
The embers of his forge fires would glow white throughout the day and night, and one of us would always have to tend them, lest they extinguish. My father kept a selection of brands that the villagers used to mark their cattle. But sometimes in a fit of temper he used these fiery hot implements to punish us, to mark us as his possessions.
My sister, Elena, was only four-years-old when she first felt the white heat of the brand on the back of her thigh. My father, ever careful, chose spots to inflict his evil where the scorched skin would not show and we knew better than to take our wounds to the village doctor. We learned to bear our lot stoically and quietly tiptoed around Klaus, careful not to set him off.
I longed to escape. I studied hard with the village schoolmaster at every opportunity. I borrowed books of alchemy and magic; maybe in their covers would be a spell that would rid my family of this evil man. I poured through the legends of the region. There was an area not far from our house that was said to be the home of immortal beings with amazing powers; I longed to join their ranks, to bring down vengeance on my father.
You must understand, those were different times. There was no divorce, no way for a woman to escape the clutches of a man like Klaus, short of death. My mother, Marlena, certainly contemplated that way out, and were it not for us, I’m convinced she would have thrown herself onto the fires of the forge long before she was forced there by Klaus.
When my sister, Elena, died the villagers all came by to pay their respects. What a tragedy, such a beautiful little flower, plucked at such an early age before she had a chance to