I’ve never been especially good at standing up for myself, that’s something I’ve often done through my characters as so much of writing is an extension of the artist’s own longings. In the following two scenes from an unpublished novella “The Tortoise and the Eagle”, my favorite character, Nixie changes her destiny in an instant as she learns for the first time to stand up for herself.
Nixie is a young milk maid on her father’s failing small dairy farm in 19th century Oberammergau Bavaria. She is homely, ostracized and has crippling epilepsy. When her uncle Snorri invites them to visit him in Munich, she is seduced by a “nosferatu” named Woglinde and they become lesbian lovers. In my mythology which is strongly influenced by Octavia Butler’s vampire novel “Fledgling”, vampires and humans were separate species who were meant to live symbiotically, but the relationship was damaged somehow into a predator prey relationship. Ideally a vampire would establish a small communal family of humans around herself. The treasured vampiric blood, when dosed in small, careful amounts would have a powerful, rejuvenating and life prolonging effect upon humans without in any way changing their humanity. In return for this, a small human family would protect the cherished vampire member with voluntarily given donations of their blood without the need for hunting or violence. A symbiotic relationship where two species take care of each other.
This mythology structure is carried over into this scene where Nixie has awoken from her first death-sleep and experienced her new identity and rejoices in it. As she goes down the stairs, naked and rampantly sensuous – and for the first time truly happy to be alive more or less – she sees Snorri, her father and Woglinde have been waiting and realizes for the first time, that instead of being loved by Woglinde, she has been used. . .
“. . . She left her clothes on the bed and went to the mirror.
The nose, once bent was straight and even small. The lips inviting, the chin delicate. The eyes soft and bright such as a man might be invited to fall into. Her legs, her belly, her breasts were all equally lovely, full and curved, womanly and soft. There was no longer the awkward lumpiness she had seen there before. The legs were clearly lengthened in bone and stride, could leap high, chase down the running –
- the night is dark and I am very fast, Woglinde had said.
I will not chase, she thought. I will not kill. I will heal. Only heal, those whom I chose, I will be their goddess. I am the fountain, the blood and the life. They will love me. The sick and the old, the deserted and the lonely, I have known them, I have been them, I will take their blood and give it back to them imbued with my magic. Mine! I will save them all with our communion. I chose who deserves to be saved.
Silent, nude, stepping with beauty, a long panther stride of hidden strength that came to her instinctively. She left the bedroom, padded to the stairs and stood a moment trying the air. She sensed each person in the dining room below. She could tell which part of the room they were sitting in at this moment. Papa. Snorri. Dear Woglinde. She also knew instantly that Woglinde knew she was there.
She moved silently down the stairs and wondered for a moment if she might actually have become a ghost. She listened to the voices of the dining room and felt the particular feelings hiding behind each voice, brushed their souls with her fingertips, perceived the anxiety in all but Woglinde's voice.
She went down, stepped into the light. Woglinde was at the far end of the table and Snorri and Papa were arguing in small anxious voices. She stood in the doorway only a moment when Woglinde turned to her. The men followed her look.
"Oh!" said Snorri, laughing. "Shield your eyes, old man, she's not your little girl anymore."
Papa did not shield his eyes. He looked at her long and hard. She felt a great boldness. There was power in her nakedness. There was challenge in her audacity, in the pink of her youthful nipples, the ruff of silver hair between her thighs. She walked across the room, long legged and rolling hipped to the dining table and the room was silent. All eyes were on her and - the feeling!
Soon all the pretty boys will bow down to worship me.
Papa rose from the table without a word. She felt Woglinde's eyes on her, as Papa strode over and stood before her.
He slapped her face hard with the back of his hand so that her eyes spun.
"No!" Woglinde leaped to her feet. "Don't ever do that!"
"Again you're parading around like this in front of others. Are you having another fit? Are you going to fall down drooling again like an idiot?"
"Stop that!" yelled Woglinde. "Stop!"
He slapped her a second time and she felt a tremendous wave surge through her such that she suddenly rose on her toes. Whatever Papa was seeing in her face made him take a step back.
Papa turned to Woglinde, eyes fevered, face flushing furious. "Am I supposed to be afraid of my little girl now, Rhine bitch? Is that what you've made for me?"
"She's not your little girl - your little girl is dead."
"She made?" said Nixie, looking at the two men. "You knew. When it was happening. You knew all about it." She looked around the table, smelled Snorri's guilt in the air like bitter incense, felt the night air vibrate with Woglinde's defiance. "Whose idea was it?"
She suddenly felt a great urge to go somewhere, downstairs to look for Danzer, to be away from all people. Smell Danzer’s honest horse hide, caress an animal's honest face, something innocent, something perfectly itself, away from people.
"I don't belong to you anymore, not any of you. I belong to myself and who I choose to love. You can all go to Hell!" Woglinde came around the table and took a step towards her. "And you too Woglinde! You most of all. Go die in the sun!"
She stamped up the stairs feeling the lightness and strength in her legs; sure that if she tried she could jump to the top step in a bound. As she reached her room she could already hear someone coming after her.
"It was my idea," said Papa, stamping into the room. I won't carry you on my back all my life."
"Nobody asked you to,” she said, turning to him, at bay. I don't need you anymore. I don’t need anybody anymore."
“You have to be good for something. Everyone has to be good for something. A young woman like you should be married. Should have given me grandsons to keep up the farm. But no! Your fancy ideas, your sickness, falling down in public like some imbecile, like a fool. Useless girl. You cost me everything – everything! You. Until now. I'm old. You will take care of me."
She wrapped her arms around her bare breasts and drew the old wall around her. She felt if she could stand very still it might all pass away and stop.
"I finally know what you're good for. Woglinde gives Snorri life and youth. I've seen it. She will help him live forever with her blood. I've tasted it. It's all true. Even if it's the devil’s blood, at least you're good for something now. Even a milk cow is good for something. Now you're going to be good for something. You're going to be my milk cow. Through you I will live. Do you hear?"
She turned her head at the rushing in her ears and looked at the lamp on the table. A soot shadow on the glass chimney was shaped like a little rabbit with ears. She looked at her hands and they needed washing. She looked at the thumb of her left hand and there was a tiny piece of skin near her fingernail that felt a little sore. She felt the hair on the back of her head begin to rise. She put her thumb in her mouth and stood very still feeling the room shrinking fast around her.
"I never wanted a fool for a daughter. I wanted a son! I never wanted you at all."
"I'm sorry, Papa."
The table cloth had a printed pattern of little black coaches pulled by little white horses and a driver with a tall hat and a whip and little heads in the coach windows. They were happy because they were traveling somewhere. That was the thing to do. To travel somewhere. Oberammergau. The cows. The farm. She sucked her thumb and counted the little horses as the room began to squeeze her chest. Six horses, each coach. Happy people, traveling. Would the angels come back? No. The angels and her lord, she would not see them again. How did she know? No, she knew.
"I never wanted you! Your mother never wanted you!"
Heat rising in her face. Sucking her thumb, shaking her head, trying to bite off the piece of sore skin on her fingernail. "No, papa."
"You’re a useless, falling down cripple." Papa's voice was trembling. He had come close to her. "Even a cow is good for something. Well, now maybe your blood at least will be good for something. By god - you'll do this. Are you hearing me?"
"No, papa." She chewed her thumb. She shook her head. "No."
The soot stain in the lamp chimney. It looked like a turtle now with four tiny legs. One. Two. Three. Four. Now flying over the mountains, now through the cold air back home to the farm and the quiet barn, now cool with the steam of the cows breath in the morning air. No need for the eagle. No need for anyone ever again. "It's all right, I'm sorry, papa."
Her eyes skipped around the room. Looking at the window curtains which blew in with the night breeze, looking past the shouting man, looking down at her feet. The thumb salty in her mouth. Her big farm girl feet now pretty and light. She would learn to dance. And the beautiful boys. The beautiful boys would worship her and live forever.
She made a fist and hit herself in the face.
Maybe I can make it happen, she thought. Maybe I can call the angels and my Lord to me and they will pick me up and fly me away.
"Why weren’t you a son!"
"I think maybe you're drunk," she said "You should maybe lie down."
"Bleed for me."
She shook her head. "That's not a nice thing to ask, Papa."
"You do not say no to me!"
She hit herself in the face again, but the golden glow wouldn't come. "That's not a nice thing to ask, papa. Don't talk anymore, please. You're just drunk."
"You will bleed for me."
"No, sir. I will not."
"What did you say? Say that again."
"No, sir. I will not."
His hand swatted her fast and hard across the face. Nixie shrieked and bounced into the table, knocking the lamp over. She lowered her head as he stormed toward her.
The stirring swelled in her. A sharp eruption behind her lips. She let it come. An iron taste that filled her with sudden light.
And there he was.
She moved over the floor to meet him, barely touching with her toes, moving with awkward untested power, snatching his hair in her clenched fist, tugging his head back hard, his arms windmilling as he toppled. She fastened down tight on his throat and felt the teeth slip in easily and beautifully as though choosing the first bite of a persimmon. She hugged him close, feeling his throbbing energy, his life, spilling into her as her brain went dull. He pounded at her back with his fists. The beating thrilled her and she gripped him harder. Bones cracked. She drew in a breath, smelling his sweat.
The lamp oil spreading on the floor had caught flame.
Snorri was running up the stairs, shouting - "I'll put her in the sun!"
Woglinde burst into the room ahead of him and stopped at the sight, blocking Snorri at the door.
On the floor Nixie sat, off far away, eyes closed to all, rocking gently Papa in her arms like a doll, cooing to him. On her cheek, a trailing blood tear stalled.
"Oh child," whispered Woglinde, "What have you done?"
And so it goes. I love my Nixie. I haven’t written for a while but seeing her awakens me. I want to check back in with her soon. Not let the light die out for us. We love our characters because they shw these hidden sides of ourselves.