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London, 1838. Christine Smith lives in a changed world, where Britain is under the strict control of the Evynwoods, an ancient vampiric family. In a shocking crime, two of Chrissy’s closest friends are brutally killed. After a chance encounter, James Evynwood, heir to the throne, takes Chrissy for himself. Is he the murderous beast she expects…or something more?

Age Rating: 18+

 

When Night Comes by Ruby Ann Medjo is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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1

October 9th, 1838, near London, England

Hell is empty and all the devils are here. —William Shakespeare

***

I brushed my fingers over the words etched in wood, the splinters no longer fresh and pointed, but browned with age and worn down to smoothness from soft caresses for many years, before I was even born.

William Shakespeare’s famous words, now twisted to conform to the reality of our world.

Words that are whispered and chanted as a mantra amongst us mere humans, words that have the capacity to incite riots that are quelled as soon as they begin.

Humanity had no strength to match their power. Humanity had no bravery left in the face of such an ancient, demonic adversary.

No amount of burning witches at the stake—innocent or guilty, no one cared to find out—and no amount of prayer from the most high priests could have stopped them.

The fantasies, the legends, they had their beginnings entrenched somewhere, although that somewhere was lost to memory. It is our fault for forgetting, for scoffing at such ridiculous proposals.

Father had said it had begun at a slow pace, creeping up as ivy winds its way up brick and mortar. It soon choked out everything, a noxious weed sent by Satan himself, some said.

Others chose to blame God, saying he was punishing us for our every sin. Why send another flood to drench and cleanse the world, when you can send creatures of the blackest night instead?

A tenuous peace was reached once humanity realized there was no escape from this hell-on-earth. The entirety of Britain remained under control of one family, colloquially referred to as the Lucifers.

It was used so often, it was easy to forget their real name, the name they’d been called for the hundreds of years before even our great-grandfathers had drawn breath—The Evynwoods.

I’d heard other lands had it far worse than ours, but I’d known no other way of life. Only what father had told me of the time before and the subsequent wars.

I was born during the Last War.

I despised the word. War implies two sides of near-equal strength vying for control of something. This was not a war—it was slaughter, Massacre, surrender.

Defeat.

The rules of life were rather simple, now. By day, humans worked their trades, talked in hushed tones of politics and the next rebellion, courted and married and had children.

Our lands were protected, by what, we were never told. Most had gathered it was from other families who sought the bountiful lands of Great Britain.

No one crossed the border, though. Not one since the ending of the Last War.

And no one, not a single soul, was allowed out of their homes after dusk.

For that was the agreement. To live in peace and tense harmony during the day, while the demons tore through the streets at night, keen on finding any stray to sink their pointed teeth into.

It was simple. It was fair enough. It was law.

Other families killed for sport, took slaves, killed humans by the thousands.

In a way, we should be thankful. The Evynwoods were diplomatic in that manner, intelligent, even. They protected their herd of helpless sheep and punished those who strayed, ensuring their needs were met as well as ours.

And so, life went on.

Hell was indeed emptied of its most abhorred creatures, and they stalked the earth as they pleased, unafraid of mere mortals. Their games were played against themselves and other myths-turned-fact.

We never saw them, for seeing them meant imminent death.

We only saw their vast, expansive castle that perched on the moor in the distance, overshadowing the bustling, winding streets of the city below.

We all went to school, read literature from famous authors of the past, did arithmetic, and studied histories.

The Evynwoods cared not if we were educated. What would a mortal brain be able to accomplish against something that had lived through such historical instances?

Father had died on a stag hunt two years ago, my mother withdrawing into herself and her bakery to make ends meet.

My older brother was off on his own, stirring up violence of some sort or another.

It was me, then. A plain, seventeen-year-old girl with her head in the clouds and nose in whatever book was available.

I ran errands for my mother after class each day, and closed my shutters tight against the dark each night, the time when screams would pierce the silence.

It was inevitable, it always was. I would thank God each night that it hadn’t been me, stuck in a broken carriage, held up by a rainstorm or twisted ankle, shut out of the nearest inn.

The dawn would always come for me to blot out the darkness.

I hoped.

My name is Christine Smith. And this is my story.

 

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2

October 9th, 1838

Come away, O human child: To the waters and the wild —William Butler Yeats

***

“I hear that they make grown women swoon,” Ginny crooned, crossing her eyes and giggling as she fanned herself.

“Ginny!” I chided, my cheeks reddening at the thought of swooning over something immortal and vicious and powerful.

“What?” She smirked, turning her gaze back up to the scuttling clouds.

We lay side by side in the grass of the moor, under the shelter of the ancient oak tree, whose leaves were now a startling shade of orange.

We’d been coming up here for as long as we’d been friends—which was forever, to us. The grass was damp, cool, but the October day was warmer than usual.

This teasing of the weather only meant winter would be harsher as punishment.

Her red hair lay in curls about her freckled, plump face.

I was jealous of Ginny, to be honest. She was seven months younger than me but had all the right curves a woman should have, from her lips to her breasts to her wide hips.

All the boys in school stared and drooled as she waltzed by. She knew she had all their attention.

I, on the other hand, was Ginny’s shadow. Pale, with stick-straight muddy brown hair and gangly limbs. No boy wanted that.

Ginny didn’t have time for boys, though. She wanted a man.

It was clear as to why, and I couldn’t bring myself to blame her. She needed someone to look after her, to take care of her, and no boy was capable of that.

Her mother had died giving birth to her sixth child, and Ginny, being caught in the middle, was often an afterthought for her bedraggled father and annoyed eldest sister.

I shook my head, returning my eyes to the tantalizing blue sky, a chill running up my spine.

“No one knows what they even look like,” I argued. I heard her snort.

“Elizabeth swears she saw one from her window last night, stalking the streets.”

It was my turn to snort and roll my eyes for added dramatics.

“Elizabeth is a dunce. She was probably making that up to get someone’s attention,” I said.

Ginny sighed in annoyance as the wind nipped at our noses. We’d cut classes early, needing a break from the mundane, as Ginny called it.

It was really an excuse for us to come up here and be normal adolescents, talking of boys and gossiping about other girls, before we returned to reality.

“Well, she had a pretty stark description of the man,” Ginny pressed, nudging my shoulder with hers. I glanced at her, her plump lips puckered.

“It’s not a man, Ginny.” I corrected. She rolled her eyes at me now.

“That is beside the point at the present. She said he was tall and all muscly, and his hair was dark as ink, and his eyes glowed,” she widened her eyes for the theatrics of it.

I smiled, entranced at the tale, even if it was false.

“She said he glanced up at her, and that his face looked like it was carved from the most precious marble, and that he smiled! Smiled, Chrissy! She saw his fangs!”

I giggled at the tenacity with which she recounted such a fable. Ginny returned my smile, poking at my side.

“If only men were as handsome as Elizabeth described, eh?” She teased. I felt my brow furrow.

“You really think a creature of hell itself smiled at her?” I asked.

Ginny shrugged, popping a stolen lemon drop into her mouth, the scent fragrant on the wind as she looked forward once more.

“Doesn’t matter, does it? We’ll never know what they look like up close,” she said.

I fiddled with a small ribbon on my tattered and worn dress, my gut sinking as I dropped my eyes, staring at the pointed toes of my boots.

“Jane knows. Knew.” I stammered in correction. Ginny sighed in exasperation as she pushed herself up and fixed me with her infamous glare.

“Chrissy, it does us no good to remember her in that way,” she said, stern as a parent.

I nodded, stowing my emotions away. Ginny had often told me I was too sensitive for this world.

My father, though, had told me to never lose my sense of compassion and empathy, that there was strength to be found in what others thought of as weakness.

Jane had been our schoolmate for years, always kind. We’d brought her up onto the moor a few times with us, giggling as school girls often do.

Jane had been found dead in an alley two months ago, her body pale and shriveled and devoid of blood, two puncture wounds on her neck.

The worst of it was how she’d been found. Not a stitch of clothing left on her body. It didn’t take a genius to surmise what she’d endured before her life had been sucked out of her.

I felt queasy.

“Why do you think she was out at night?” I asked, knowing it was a question I’d posed before. Ginny had never been able to give me a satisfying enough answer, though.

She huffed a strand of hair from her face, glancing to the castle silhouetted in the distance, an ever-present reminder of who controlled our lives.

“Probably got caught up in a storm, Christine.” She was annoyed.

“It hadn’t even rained that day,” I argued, ignoring the fact that she had used my full name. She never did.

Ginny crossed her arms over her prominent breasts.

“Look, it’s over and done. We can’t fix it now, so let it go.” She said. I bit my cheek and nodded.

“Let’s get your errands done early,” she suggested, standing and holding her hand out to me. With a sad smile, I obliged.

***

I was home well before dusk, thanks to Ginny helping me. I set the wicker basket onto the floury table, closing the shutters in the kitchen.

Mother was asleep by the hearth already—she was awake before dawn each morning to begin her baking.

I gripped the old quilt, laying it across her lap, giving her a smile she’d not see.

The lines on her face weren’t as deep in sleep, her brow not furrowed, her lips not frowning. She still had flour smudges on her papery cheeks.

Turning, I dropped a few more logs into the insatiable fire before I climbed into my loft.

I pushed open my window, grasping my latest book as I nestled into my spot. The chilly wind whisked in, but I relished the scent of fall. It was my most favorite time of year.

I closed my eyes against the warmth of the setting sun, the church bell tolling in the distance. People shouted, carts rambled along the cobblestone streets below.

Night was falling. It was time to be home.

I awoke sometime later, chilled to my core, my book thumping to the ground and startling me awake. Gasping, I lurched away from my window, pulling it closed.

They’d never come into our homes, couldn’t unless they were invited. But it was still a precaution I wanted to take.

Before the glass panes were shut tight, a scream pierced the darkness.

***

I kicked pebbles, scattering them out of my way, yawning as I trudged to school.

Today felt like autumn. The morning was foggy, the buildings swathed in dense moisture. I’d wrapped a scarf about my neck before I’d left this morning.

Children ran past me, shoving one another out of the way with pointy elbows. I was too tired to hurry to and from places anymore unless it was nearing night.

The closer I came to the schoolhouse, the busier it became. Carriages rolled past, the sturdy horses not caring to stop for passerby. Men hollered, selling newspapers as though the news still mattered.

I hugged myself against the moist breeze, feeling my hair dampen.

I felt a tug on my arm, and I knew it was Ginny before I even shot her a glance.

“Chrissy,” she was breathless, but there was an unusual note to her voice this morning that caused me to stop, teetering on the cobblestones.

I looked up at her auburn eyes. They were glossy with tears. My heart clenched, sensing she had news. This kind of news still mattered.

“Who?” I breathed. Her plump lower lip trembled as a single tear cascaded down her freckled cheek.

Elizabeth.”

***

There was no deterring the incessant whispers of the students today. Our teachers huddled, discussing their own, elevated opinions on the matter at hand.

It didn’t matter. There was nothing humans could do. We were at their mercy, always.

I felt shame and guilt, along with deep sadness, that I had called Elizabeth a dunce just the day before. Turns out she might not have been lying, after all. It didn’t matter now. She was dead.

Ginny stood, one arm across her waist while her other hand played at her lips. Her braided hair had sprung loose in the morning mist, curling around her temples.

I sat at my desk, my knees knocking together, one arm resting on the back of my chair, my hand gripping the smooth wood so tight my knuckles ached.

My fingers played at the smooth words of Shakespeare etched into the top corner of my desk.

An unknowable student had carved them, having been forced to read The Tempest, but had at least gleaned some insight from the play, applying it to our world now.

“It was the same as Jane,” Johnny whispered, eyes wide.

“Who told ye that?” Seamus said in disbelief, though fear tinted his tone.

“I heard it from the teachers just now, and my father!” He whispered, voice harsh.

“Where was she?” Ginny asked. Mary sniffled, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.

“Just a street down from her home,” Johnny answered.

“And?” Ginny prodded, always able to pull information from people.

“Two holes, right here,” Johnny pushed on his jugular vein with two bony fingers. I felt my legs tremble even more.

“Except, this time, she had bite marks…ye know…” Johnny blushed, nodding downward.

Mary gasped in horror, Ginny’s face paled. My toes curled in my boots in disgust and stark fear.

“And who told ye that?” Seamus repeated, skeptical. Johnny rolled his eyes.

“My father is on the Council. He was there this mornin’ to investigate.”

Investigate. Another word I detested. It implied we still had police, detectives. There was no need for that anymore. We always knew who the murderers were.

Johnny leaned in, as though he were conspiring with us.

“They think it’s got to be the same dirty Lucifer who killed Jane. They think the girls were taken from their homes.”

Mary sat, fanning herself as though she would faint. Ginny stood stock still. I felt sick all over again, recalling my open window, my stupidity, and my naivety.

“They can’t do that,” I whispered, shaking my head, incredulous.

“Who says they can’t?” Johnny asked, his wide brown eyes full of deep-rooted fear.

 

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