According to The Vampire Encyclopedia by Matthew Bunson, a rakhas (or, more formally, rakshasa) is tinkling-bell-clad, blue-throated, blood-stained creature with matted hair and five feet. One of the powerful vampires of India.
I can tell you from experience that this is an exaggeration.
It’s like playing that game—Chinese Whispers, is it?—where information becomes more muddled as it passes from one person to another. Person one says, “Sleek feline with dark fur”; person two hears blood-stained; three, matted hair. And on and on and on… until you get a creature so unbelievable that it can only be a myth that ancient peoples feared.
Those who consider themselves “skeptics” and “academics” can laugh at how gullible and impressionable ancients all were. How they feared the dark and forests and the animals they couldn’t name. Scholars can contemplate how those stories came about and debate with one another and change their minds a million times over and write paper after paper. How ignorant those people were to the world around them!
In the long run, perhaps, that’s for the better.
It’s much easier to hide when we’re something ignorant people made up to explain the things that go bump in the night.
But I digress. I have that tendency after five thousand odd years.
Yes, over five thousand years ago my family encountered the rakhas. Not all of my family survived. I lost an aunt, an uncle, a father, cousins… and the losses didn’t end after the initial attack.
Did I mention that rakshasa means “the injurer”? It’s in the Veda.
Injure it did… it injured us.
Those of us left became monsters in the eyes of the people we needed the most.
Isn’t that always the way though?
I want to start by saying: Ajit and I did not know any better.
Of course it seems like a cop out. How could it not when I say it now, after so many years?
I sound experienced, don’t I? Wise. Worldly. That’s the end result, I assure you.
Four years of age doesn’t give you much in the way of self control when you’re transformed into a blood-thirsty creature. You’re a child. All you think of is your next meal, how your belly is growling and how weak you feel when you don’t eat. Everything—everyone—looks like something you can get nourishment from. You hear the blood flowing through them, smell their fragrance.
Ajit, at twelve, most likely knew better, but somehow I have always had a certain influence over him.
All five of us—Aunt Kali, Uncle Vivek, my mama Devika, Ajit, and me—hunted down wild animals to feed from. The blood of animals is like junk food, I believe you call it. It fills you up but does nothing to fuel you. You’re hungry an hour later and looking for your next meal. It was never ending in those days.
Indu became a sad victim of circumstance because of this. Had we not changed, she and Ajit would have wed, had a family, lived a long happy life together. I’m certain of those things. Instead, she lived up to her name’s meaning—“bright drop”—and became our first human meal, a bright drop of nourishing blood.
She came upon Ajit and me as he was trying to comfort me. My stomach twisted painfully, and I couldn’t stop crying, no matter how much he cooed to me and petted my back. There was an emptiness in me that couldn’t be filled.
Indu found us sitting at the edge of the wood just after dusk. Mama, Aunt Kali, and Uncle Vivek had left us there while they went to harvest us an animal or two. So many people stayed away from us by that time, but she was too young to know we were different now. We were still just Shreya and Ajit to her, and she and Ajit had been promised to one another since she was born.
Without a word, she sat beside him and relieved him of his burden, hugging me to her chest and humming. “Shush, shush, Shreya. Whatever is the matter?”
I can’t remember all the fine details now. The sound of the blood through her veins and the mouthwatering aroma of honey overwhelmed all else. I looked up and eased her chin down so I could look into her eyes. “I’m so hungry.”
Her face went blank at my gaze, but she kept humming that soothing melody.
I brought her wrist to my cheek and nuzzled it, listening to the life flowing underneath. The instincts that the rakhas’s blood bestowed me took control; my sharp fangs slid through Indu’s skin, releasing a flood over my tongue and down my throat. My stomach celebrated a proper meal.
“Shreya!” Ajit pulled me away. “What are you doing! Stop!” But thirst was in his wide amber eyes.
“She tastes like honey, Ajit. I feel better. My tummy isn’t growling.” I offered the arm to him.
He took it reluctantly, mesmerized by the blood oozing from the puncture wounds. His tongue darted out, licking, before his mouth locked over her skin.
I gently took her other arm, continuing my meal.
The things I saw as I fed! Memories from Indu’s short life—her mother and father, her brothers and sister, all her friends—playing while she still hummed and the sound of her heart grew fainter in the background.
Then it was torn away.
Aunt Kali clutched me to her breast as Uncle Vivek’s fingers dug into Ajit’s upper arm, pulling him away from Indu.
“What have you done?” Mama held my cheeks in her palms.
“I was so hungry, Mama.” My head shook away from her and moved down towards Indu.
The girl had fallen back onto the ground when we had been pulled away from her, her head tilted up at an odd angle no living person’s could, her dark hair a pillow. Her wounded wrists rested out to her sides, smears of blood staining her pale skin. Moonlight reflected in her sightless eyes.
Horror spread over Mama’s face. “We have to hide her. We have to—”
A scream cut her off. The five of us turned as Indu’s mother ran to her daughter’s body. Others soon followed as we stood frozen.
The disgust on our friends’ faces. The fear…
We were monsters.
And I had sealed my family’s fate.
To be continued…