by Renee Lake
Embrace the darkness in this gender-bent Dracula retelling.
Maddie West is excited about the new adventures college life promises. She dreams of rallies, weird roommates and challenging classes.
She expects to have fun, play house with her girlfriend and make new lifelong friends. All while keeping an eye on her terminally ill twin brother. What she doesn’t expect is a mystery and tragedy within her first semester.
Is there a monster preying upon the people at her college?
Will she betray her friends and succumb to temptation?
Can they band together and fight the darkness?
Or is the darkness that surrounds her not the enemy... but her only ally?
BUY THE BOOK
Yesterday at 2:55 pm
Just got done registering for classes! Scored a great house to rent and a prime place in Ms. Dulcara’s Eastern European Studies Class!
Lucky! I’d have given anything to get into that class. I got stuck with anthropology instead. Can’t wait to see you when classes start. This summer away from you has been too long!
Ugh, can you two please not flirt where I can see it? I will be in your class Jo. Hopefully you guys will have some cute roommates you can hook me up with!
Nothing like transferring schools a year in to make you feel insecure. Hope the new roomies have some class.
Oh, hell no.
Madeline West stared at the large, rambling house in front of her and thought, not for the first time, that maybe she should have just gotten a dorm room. The place was made of dark wood, with large windows, a pointed roof, and the first floor had a wraparound porch. It had to be at least three stories tall.
“It looks intense,” her mother said, standing next to her.
“Looks haunted,” her father teased, nudging her shoulder. He was carrying a box full of her stuff.
“The price was great. Off campus housing isn’t usually cheap,” Mom said.
“It does look kind of old,” Madeline, or Maddie, to everyone who knew her, said. I can’t live here; what kind of person would live here?
“Let’s go inside and check it out. We can always try to find you somewhere else if this place is awful.” Dad gave her a friendly push. Maddie went up the five creaking stairs and walked across the porch. The front door matched the house: big, dark, and made from some sort of heavy wood.
“I wish Lucca was here.” Maddie bit her lip after she said it. She hadn’t wanted to go to the same college as Lucca, but it was the only way her parents would let him go to college at all. Ghosts…no vampires…I know, serial killers.
They dropped off Maddie’s twin brother, Lucca, at the boys’ dorm on campus first. Lucca wanted a true college experience, full of parties, late nights, girls, and living in a dorm room.
Maddie just wanted to not worry about him for once, but she knew that wasn’t likely to happen.
“No one would be comfortable with your brother living in a house full of girls.” Mom tried the door handle, but it was locked.
“But we do wish he would have wanted to room with you too,” Dad said, looking concerned. Lucca was born with a heart condition; idiopathic cardiomyopathy. Which basically meant eventually he would experience complete heart failure. Everyone tended to fret over him.
“Huh, thought the landlord said it would be unlocked?” Mom frowned and took out her phone from the pocket of her blazer. Maddie looked just like her mother; long, chestnut brown hair, pale skin with the bare hint of freckles across her nose and large, green eyes.
There were only two major differences between Maddie and her mom. The first being two red birth marks below Maddie’s ear, like a vampire’s bite mark, each a dime in size. Maddie hated them, she’d been born with them and teased as a child.
The second was their skin color, her mother was about five shades darker than Maddie. Maddie hoped college would be different; in their small home town the birth marks weren’t the only reason Maddie had been teased. You couldn’t tell by looking at her, but Maddie was half Puerto Rican. Though, if one more person asked her if she spoke Spanish, she might flip her shit.
It was a matter of personal shame that her mother spoke it fluently, but Maddie did not. She didn’t even like to talk about her heritage or check the Hispanic box on forms. The only real way you could tell Maddie wasn’t all the way white was the thick and rich texture of her dark brown hair.
“Lucca will be fine,” Maddie commented, wishing, again, that she hadn’t said anything at all.
“Is it locked? Should we call the landlord?” Dad asked. He was tall, getting soft around the middle, and his blond hair was thinning out. He and Lucca had matching blue eyes.
“Ah, the landlord sent an email. The key is in the flower pot.” Mom knelt next to a rust colored pot with nothing but soil in it and pulled out a large, brass key. With a twist in the lock and a shove against the door, it opened into a spacious front hall.
The place smelled like pine trees, and sunlight filled the rooms. A mahogany and yellow flowered rug covered the wood floor in the entryway. There was a light on above them, shining brightly and a small table that had a land line phone and five sets of keys. Who even used a land line anymore?
“Okay, this is much better,” Maddie said, relieved. The place was old, but everything seemed to be updated and clean. Okay, I can do this. I can’t let my imagination run away with me.
“Very nice!” her dad exclaimed, shifting the box. Must have been filled with her books.
“Your room is on the third floor, number five.” Mom was reading paperwork from the landlord. She grabbed a set of keys that had the number five attached to it with paper, placing the dirt covered key on the table.
“Well, these boxes won’t unpack themselves,” Dad joked and started up the stairs first. The third floor had dark purple carpets and smooth wood paneled walls, there were only two bedrooms and a shared bathroom, each door was a deep brown with purple trim that had the room number in bright lavender paint.
Mom gave Maddie her keys and they went into her room. “Oh yes, this is great!” Maddie felt happy. She’d never lived outside of her parents’ house before and had worried about the living conditions. A queen-sized bed filled one corner, a desk, internet and cable hook ups, and a decent sized closet took up the other. The windows looked out over the yard and you could see an old mansion in the distance. Everything outside was starting to turn rust colored, as fall made her slow entrance into the world, pushing summer away.
As she looked out the window at the Dulcara Mansion, a shiver of something, not quite fear, ran up her spine. Foreboding maybe? Or just nerves? Closing her eyes and counting to ten, Maddie pushed the feelings aside. Her parents had told her a dozen times not to let her imagination get the better of her.
“That’s a historical landmark, apparently this house and the mansion used to be on the same property before the family sold the acres in between to the city,” Dad said, setting a box down, as mom went to get some more.
“Yup, looked up some things about this town when you decided to come here. This house and the Dulcara Mansion are still owned by the family. They give tours of the mansion. You and Jo should check it out.”
“Dulcara? Like the professor?”
“One and the same.” Dad gave her a smile and headed down the stairs. Maddie was about to follow, it was all her junk after all, when she heard a familiar laugh; Jo!
Taking a deep breath, she quelled the negative thoughts in her mind. She should be ecstatic Jo had decided to go to college with her. A few times over the summer, Maddie had wished Jo hadn’t been so eager for them to be together forever. How would she have any adventures with Jo watching her every step? She loved her girlfriend, she did...Jo was just exhausting.
Maddie straightened her white off the shoulder dress and quickly left the room. Jo would be irritated if Maddie didn’t come greet her. She wondered if Jo had changed over the summer, grown her hair out, pierced her nose, or maybe started wearing colored contacts.
Taking the stairs as fast as she could, Maddie almost collided with Jo on the second floor. The girls embraced and Jo pressed her lips, warm and dry, against Maddie’s.
“I missed you so much!” Jo told her.
Jo and Maddie started dating their junior year of high school, they’d spent the last summer apart with nothing but emails and phone calls to keep their love from dwindling.
Jo’s dad hadn’t been happy about his daughter’s school choice or Maddie, to be honest. He wanted Jo to marry well and give him Ivy League bound grand babies. In fact, one of the stipulations to him agreeing to pay for school was that Jo and Maddie have separate rooms and not take any classes together.
Maddie’s mom and dad loved Jo, they were more down to earth than Jo’s rich dad. Not that Maddie’s family was poor, but while Maddie grew up in a cozy ranch style house on five acres, Jo lived in a two-story modern home where everything was clean, white, and brand new.
“I missed you, too,” Maddie said.
“This is going to be a fun year. We get to live in the same house and be treated like grownups,” Jo told her. Jo was a lot taller than Maddie. She had a handsome face with short brown hair, skin that was forever tanned, and dark eyes. Where Maddie was curvy, Jo was broad shouldered and narrow hipped. Jo wore pin striped pants, combat boots, and a black t-shirt, she called the outfit her lesbian uniform.
“Grownups help schlep their own boxes!” Maddie’s dad called from the front door. “You need help with your stuff, Jolene?”
“No, thanks, Mr. West, I got it covered!”
The two girls laughed and, arm in arm, went down the stairs.
Sooner than Maddie was ready for, all her boxes were in her room, and it was time for her parents to leave.
“Remember, we’re only a few hours’ drive away if you need anything.” Mom kissed Maddie and Jo goodbye, sniffling.
“Alright kiddos, behave yourselves.” Dad gave a friendly salute and they were out the door. It shut loudly behind them. Jo and Maddie stood in the foyer and didn’t speak until they heard the car pull away.
“So, your dad didn’t come?” Maddie asked, as they began to explore the first floor. Who lived here before us? Did they have slaves? That would be awful. I don’t think I could live here with that history.
“Nope, I packed up and drove myself. Thankfully the job with Dad all summer made sure the Jo-mobile was in tip top condition for the drive.” Jo spent the summer at her dad’s law firm, basically running errands and acting as a receptionist. It was another condition for paying for college at Humboldt State. Jo wanted to be a lawyer too, but she didn’t want to go to Stanford, like her dad.
Walking into the living room, Maddie noticed the built-in shelves full of books first while Jo gave an appreciative whistle at the large, flat screen, HD TV. The room had a deep blue carpet and two comfy, if a bit worn looking, brown, leather couches. Warm light came in through the large, bay window, blue curtains hung loosely around the delicate frame.
Maddie pictured her and Jo curled up in the window together reading their favorite book, Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock. That was how they met, they both went to the library for a book to do a report on and chose the same novel. There was only one copy, and since neither wanted a different book, they decided to share. Jo got the better grade as she usually did. It had been quite the meet-cute. They both loved the novel and had spent hours talking to each other about it, leading to their first date.
“I wish they’d put you on the third floor with me,” Maddie told her, focusing on Jo; she had a bad habit of letting her mind wander.
“Me too, then it would be easier to sneak into each other’s rooms.” Jo tickled Maddie and gave her another kiss, as they moved on to check out the kitchen and dining area.
“Well, as long as you didn’t lose any of your skills over the summer, the distance won’t matter,” Maddie teased. Jo was not her first girlfriend, but she was her first lover, and Maddie missed the intimacy of their relationship while they had been apart.
“Nope, nor did I use those skills on anyone but myself.” Jo laughed, as Maddie blushed. The kitchen was very modern with polished concrete counters, stainless steel appliances, and brand-new cabinets. There was a breakfast nook with a cream-colored bench and small table next to a window that overlooked the side yard.
“How was Puerto Rico?” Jo asked.
“I sent you half a dozen emails and several letters,” Maddie responded, not that Jo had answered any of them. Maddie’s grandma had engulfed Lucca and her in the culture, she’d taken so many pictures of the food she worried her Instagram would break.
“I know, but they were kind of dull, and you weren’t much better on the phone,” Jo said, leading the way into the dining room.
“I have pictures. It was amazing, and my grandma says hi.”
The dining room connected to the kitchen, and a large oak table that sat eight held prominent place in the center of the room. Walls with gold wallpaper and a matching rug under the table and a low hanging chandelier gave the room a decadent feel. A vase full of orange speckled Humboldt lilies sat on the table. A portrait of a woman hung on one wall, but neither girl paid attention to it.
“Wow, pretty room,” Maddie said.
“That we’ll most likely never use.”
“We might. We can have romantic dinners here.”
“Are you going to cook?” Jo asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Maybe, you never know. I could develop a passion for it.” Maddie felt a little irritated. Just because she didn’t cook didn’t mean she couldn’t learn. Maybe I should take a cooking class, I could make elaborate meals like paella or lobster Thermador.
“Right, I’ll believe it when I see it. We are more take out type people,” Jo said dismissively. Maddie opened her mouth to argue but stopped as a new voice broke up their almost fight.
Jo took Maddie’s hand and they rushed to the front hall. Maddie’s heart rate leapt. The prospect of new people meant new friends and hopefully new experiences. Maybe the other roommates would be unique and fun. A dred-wearing surfer girl who only spoke in clichés, or someone from a foreign country and Maddie could take French or Chinese and ace it! Or maybe they’d be horrible, and she could write a book about what it was like to live with a heroin addict from Idaho or a bad-tempered gang member.
The door was wide open, and a girl stood in it, framed by the sunlight. She was quite short with large breasts and hips. Maddie was envious, while she was pale and kind of pink, this new girl had a beautiful ivory complexion, the kind found in makeup ads. Her eyes were a brilliant blue and the hair she had wound into an elaborate French twist was red. She wore a white mini skirt with matching sandals and a cerulean tank top.
“Glad to see I’m not the first to arrive,” she said, in a voice heavily laced with a southern accent. She held a vase full of fresh, white roses.
“Hi! I’m Jo, room three, and this is Maddie, room five.” Jo thrust out her large hand, and the new girl seemed to study it for a moment and then placed her well-manicured hand in Jo’s.
“I’m Allison Hastings, I believe I am in room one.”
“Flowers?” Maddie asked. Should I have brought something? Maybe a fancy fruit or cheese?
“One always brings a gift into someone else’s house.” She set the flowers down on the table next to the rest of the keys. Reaching into her fancy purse, she pulled out a letter, pursing glossy lips, she quickly read a few lines and nodded. Folding it back up, she grabbed the keys on the table with the number one.
“Okay, bring it in!” she called behind her. All three girls moved to the side, as several muscular men began to bring in boxes.
“Where to, Miss Hastings?” A burly looking guy with a beard asked.
“Second floor, room one,” Allison said, then she turned her attention back to Jo and Maddie.
“So, where are you from?” Jo asked, looking amused.
“Maddie and I are from a town a few hours from here, actually.”
“Freshmen?” Allison inquired.
“Yes,” Maddie jumped in, if she didn’t talk now, she wouldn’t at all. Jo was a big personality and sometimes overshadowed her. “I’m in Women’s Studies, and Jo is doing her generals before moving on to law.”
“I’m a sophomore. I heard this college had a better business program so my father made a few calls, and here I am!” Allison exclaimed, her smile large.
“Oh, that’s cool, my brother is majoring in Business Administration,” Maddie said. Allison’s eyes seemed to grow brighter.
“A brother? Is he cute?”
“Most girls think so,” Jo said, snorting back a laugh.
“You’ll have to introduce me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to tell the movers where to put my things.” Allison went up the stairs, pulling out the newest iPhone.
“She’ll take some getting used to,” Jo muttered.
“You think everyone seems nice.” Jo leaned over and kissed her cheek. Their almost fight seemed forgotten.
“My dad said this house is owned by the Dulcara family,” Maddie said, as they went into the living room and sat together, close, limbs intertwining.
“Yeah, that’s what I read online. The family is rich. I can’t wait to meet Professor Dulcara, everyone says that she is an amazing teacher.” Jo reached up and twirled a lock of Maddie’s hair, giving her goosebumps.
“Why are you taking an Eastern European class anyway?”
“I hate history, you know that. I have to fulfill a history requirement though, so this seemed like a fun option.”
“Doesn’t hurt that if you score a coveted TA position it sets you for life.” A new voice entered the conversation. Jo and Maddie looked up, Maddie couldn’t believe they hadn’t heard the door open again.
There was a black girl leaning against the doorway. She had on jeans with ripped knees, a bright red crop top that had a black outline of Angela Davis on it, matching Doc Martins, and her hair was short, ebony, and natural. She was very beautiful, like classically, her brown eyes framed by long thick lashes.
“Excuse me, who are you?” Jo asked, standing up.
“I’m going to live here with you. I’m Scarlet Jones,” she said, without smiling.
Jo and Maddie quickly introduced themselves.
“Looks like I’m in room two, second floor.”
“In between Jo and Allison then, Allison is already here,” Maddie explained.
“She own the fancy car out front?”
“I guess so.” Maddie didn’t think Scarlet could be talking about Jo’s car. Jo’s car was nice, but not fancy. Jo was given a BMW when she turned sixteen and wrecked it within a week, so her dad made her pay for the next one.
“Look, my best friend is right behind me, I gotta warn you ahead of time. She has psoriasis and is self-conscious about it. It’s not contagious and if you say anything to her I’ll be really pissed,” Scarlet spoke fast, eyes narrowing at the two of them.
“We would never, I mean…we’re not stupid, no need to threaten us,” Maddie said, not wanting to get off to a rough start with her new roommates. I don’t even know what psoriasis is. I better look it up. She took out her phone, trying to be nonchalant and did a google search.
“If we’re clear, Queenie is...a little different. We’re rooming outside the dorms this year hoping it will make a difference,” Scarlet said.
“Oh, you’re not a freshman?” Jo asked.
“No, Queenie and I are juniors. So, if you want booze, ask. We both turned twenty-one this summer,” Scarlet said, laughing.
“Scarlet?” A soft voice called from the front porch.
“In here, Queenie!” Scarlet called back. She turned around and gave the first genuine smile to a girl slowly entering the room. The smile softened Scarlet’s face and made Maddie realize she probably wasn’t as tough as she came across.
Their last roommate was a sun kissed blonde with hazel eyes. She had a sincere looking face, not pretty, with a large nose and forehead. Her neck was long, and she was very tall and very thin. She wore jeans and a green peasant blouse. A hemp bag that said, “Save the Trees” was slung over her left shoulder, and Maddie could see faded red splotches on her arms.
Maddie took a liking to her instantly. “Hi! I’m Maddie, and this is Jo.”
“I’m Queenie, Queenie Myles,” she said, voice soft, timid, but friendly.
“Scarlet was just telling us about Professor Dulcara’s class, something about the teaching assistants?” Maddie focused on Scarlet. She was interested in this professor. She sure seemed to own a lot of land in Arcata, and the way they talked about her made it sound like she was a prominent member of society.
“You have Professor Dulcara?” Queenie asked.
“I do,” Jo said.
“She’s weird. My uncle doesn’t like her, and he has good reason.”
“Reasons you won’t share with me,” Scarlet huffed, looking offended.
“Sorry Scarlet, family secret.”
“Your uncle?” Maddie changed the subject.
“Queenie’s uncle is an anthropology professor here. It’s true Professor Dulcara is kind of strange, but I had her last year and her class is amazing,” Scarlet said.
“She picks a TA every few years to help with all her classes, sometimes undergraduates,” Queenie informed them.
“Why’s that strange’?” Maddie asked.
“Teachers usually pick grad students, however the amount of money the Dulcara Foundation pumps into the community and school allows her special privileges. Sometimes she will choose an undergraduate,” Scarlet answered.
“Her TAs do very well in life. She uses her connections when they graduate to get them whatever they want; a job, internship...even a spouse. Sometimes the TAs become her lovers.” Queenie’s eyes got larger with every word.
Her lovers? What would that be like, to be in bed with an older, experienced woman? Maddie’s thoughts weren’t running away from her, they were sprinting.
“Oh, those are just rumors, Queenie, don’t scare the freshmen,” Scarlet chuckled, slinging an arm around Queenie.
“There’s a portrait of her in the dining room, if you’re curious,” Queenie said.
“Good job snagging that class so early on. You won’t regret it,” Scarlet said. “Come on, Queenie, let’s get our stuff.” They turned and went back outside, heads together whispering.
“Whatcha think of that?” Jo asked after they left.
“I think I want to see that painting.” Maddie stood up, leaving Jo in the living room, trying to figure out the remote controls.
She entered the dining room and this time focused on the portrait of the woman hanging on the back wall. It was an oil painting on canvas with a gold frame. Maddie felt shock go through her system as she gazed upon it.
The woman sat in an ornate, wooden chair, black hair wound around her hair in an old-fashioned elaborate style. Later Maddie couldn’t tell you what she was wearing or if she was outside or in the middle of the circus.
“I know those eyes,” Maddie said to the empty room. She knew the shape, the black pools surrounded by long lashes.
Collapsing into a dining room chair, Maddie’s heart raced out of control.
Those eyes had been in her dreams.