The wind screamed in her ears as she fought through its invisible violence, and not for the first time she cursed the dress that furled and billowed like a great sail no matter how tightly she pulled it in. The night was dense and dark, with the threat of imminent rain. It was insane to be out at all in such weather, but her husband was out there, should have been back already in the warmth and safety of the house, and now the bell was ringing, its sombre tone cutting through the chaos, a call for help.
Her feet followed a familiar path, the tower silhouetted briefly by a sky split by lightning, the tolling bell drowned out by a crash of thunder that tore a scream from her. She ran through the dark, ran to the tower and burst through the door into the lamp-lit stairwell that circled up around the rope, all the way up to the great bell itself and the teeth and wheels of the clock.
Lifeless eyes stared down at her, echoing horror. Her husband had fallen, had been snared by the rope, and now swung above her head, tugged by the now-silent bell. ‘Tom!’ she screamed, and rushed up the stairs to bring herself level with him. Perhaps there was yet hope, if she could release him, breathe fresh life into him.
But then she saw his neck, wounded, wet with blood. It wasn’t the fall that had killed him. An icy fear gripped her and she spun, startled, hunting the shadows around her. Laughter echoed from above. ‘How lovely,’ he said.
He was dressed in red, an army colonel’s uniform, a sword at his side, and might have been handsome were it not for the blood staining his lips and chin. With a scream she fled, racing for the door, but his hand caught her neck, stopping her, then an arm was about her waist, the hand teasing its way down between her legs, the fingers bunching up her skirt. The other hand mauled her breasts, pinching her nipples through the fabric of the dress. ‘No,’ she whispered, sobbing, though whether from loss of her husband or fear for herself she could not have said.
His breath was hot against her neck, and his hard desire pressed against her back. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said, and with a sudden wrench he ripped her dress open, exposing her undergarments. ‘I can give you pleasure, or I can give you pain. There’s something very satisfying about a woman in pain, but if you give yourself to me I will be merciful. I may even let you live.’
His hands were on her breasts, teasing her nipples gently, and his lips pressed to her neck, kissing her gently, a hard sharpness promising something worse. To her shame, her body responded to him, stirring with hunger for stimulation. She fought away that cruel temptation and stamped down on her attacker’s foot, and wrenched herself free of him.
He grabbed her wrist and dragged her back to him, slapping her face sharply. ‘My, you are a spirited one. I’m really going to enjoy you.’ He tore her undergarments off, leaving her naked save for her shoes, and forced her wrists behind her back, holding them tightly with one hand while the other pulled her crotch tight against the hard length concealed by his trousers. ‘My pleasure is inevitable,’ he whispered in her ear. ‘Yours is entirely up to you.’
Recognising her helplessness, she yielded completely to him, no longer caring what happened. Her husband was dead – she didn’t dare look up to see that horrified stare again – and the monster that had killed him now had her in his clutches. It was easier to yield than fight, now that all hope was lost, but nothing could stop the tears welling in her eyes and rolling down her cheeks.
The air exploded with sound around her and her body convulsed painfully. The vampire cried out in alarm and looked up at the bell, even as a large block of masonry hammered into his head. He fell forward, trapping her under him, as more stones fell. A brass wheel ricocheted off the stairs and decapitated the monster, and she choked on the blood that sprayed and poured across her face.
Shoving the inert body of her captor away, she tried to escape the falling debris, but a shower of brass wheels sliced into her back and she fell to the ground screaming, until she was buried under so much rock and dust and metal that there was no air to scream with, and darkness finally claimed her.
Demonic forces worked on her flesh, transforming her, fought against the brass wheels briefly before adopting them, using them, adjusting and working them to a new purpose. Gear wheels slotted together, hundreds of sharp teeth biting in uniform purpose, replacing weak and damaged muscles with machinery.
On the periphery of her awareness she heard people searching for her husband and her, not realising that they were buried in the wreckage of the clock tower. She heard them, but even buried as she was she smelled them too, rich in living blood. A hunger awoke in her, like nothing she had ever known. There had been many days when Tom and she had worried about their next meal, days when they had shared a last stale crust of bread and prayed for better days. They had known hunger, but not like this.
But stronger even than that terrible hunger was a tremendous weight, a pressure of sunlight upon the world above her, and she stayed buried, hid until nightfall, before working herself free of rock and metal, to stand naked in the moonlight, the night calm and beautiful, vivid with colour and life to her new senses.
She felt vibrant with power, like a goddess, perhaps. Her home, her husband, the remnants of her human life surrounded her here like ghosts, familiar but unwelcome. ‘Farewell,’ she whispered, and ran into the night, chasing a thread of intoxication.