Little Vampire WomenLouisa May Alcott
Little Vampire Women
Louisa May Alcott and Lynn Messina
A Merry Christmas
The Laurence Boy
Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful
Jo Meets Apollyon
Meg Goes to Vanity Fair
Aunt March Settles The Question
The First Wedding
The Valley of the Shadow
About the Authors
About the Publisher
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any corpses,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
“I don’t think it’s fair for some vampires to have plenty of pretty squirming things, and other vampires nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
Being so poor, the Marches customarily dined on quarts of pig’s blood, goat’s blood, and, on very special occasions, cow’s blood, but they rarely had the luxury of a living, breathing animal to feast on, and when they did, it was usually a small creature hardly more than a snack. Most of their meals had to be warmed over the fire to be brought up to the proper temperature, which was particularly humiliating for the young girls. Gone were the days when they could sink their fangs into a wiggling beaver, let alone a writhing cow. A human had never been on the menu, even when the family was wealthy and lived in a large, well-appointed house, for the Marches were humanitarians who believed the consumption of humans unworthy of the modern vampire. Humans were an inferior species in many ways, but they deserved to be pitied, not consumed.
“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner. She was the shy, domestically inclined sister.
“We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time,” Jo said sadly. She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was.
The war was the reason they were to be denied even a field mouse this Christmas. It was going to be a hard winter for all humans, and their mother thought they ought not spend money for pleasure, when so many were suffering in the army. That the suffering was limited to mortal men did not concern Mother, for her commitment to the human race was steadfast, despite the criticism of her neighbors, who found both the Marches’ beliefs and behavior baffling. Typically, vampires didn’t concern themselves with the petty wars of humans. They had roamed the earth long before people and would continue to roam it long after they were gone.
“We can’t do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid I don’t,” and Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully of all the pretty corpses she wouldn’t get to eat.
“But I don’t think the little we should spend would do any good. We’ve each got a dollar, and the army wouldn’t be much helped by our giving that. I agree not to expect any gifts from Mother or you, but I do want to buy Mr. Bloody Wobblestone’s Scientifical Method for Tracking, Catching, and Destroying Vampire Slayers.1 I’ve wanted it so long,” said Jo, who yearned to join the league of defenders, brave and gallant vampires who protected their fellow creatures from those humans who would destroy them by any means possible. In the last century, the noble profession had undergone a vast change, adopting modern techniques to battle an ancient threat. Relying on one’s instincts, which had always been an imperfect process at best and a guessing game at worst, had been supplanted by steadfast science. Now, instead of spending three months learning the antiquated art of filtering out the smothering scent of garlic, one simply could put on an allium mask,2 which accomplished the task for you.
“I planned to spend my dollar in new music,” said Beth, who loved to play music on the Marches’ very old, poorly tuned piano. Mrs. March believed in a liberal education and strove to cultivate an interest in the arts in all her children.
“I shall get a nice box of Faber’s fang enhancements,” said Amy decidedly. Her fangs, though long, were blunt and did not come to an aristocratic point like her sisters’. No one minded the dullness save herself, but Amy felt deeply the want of a pair of killer-looking fangs.
“Mother didn’t say anything about our money, and she won’t wish us to give up everything. Let’s each buy what we want, and have a little fun; I’m sure we work hard enough to earn it,” cried Jo.
“I know I do—teaching those tiresome children nearly all night, when I’m longing to enjoy myself at home,” began Meg, in the complaining tone again.
“You don’t have half such a hard time as I do,” said Jo, who served as companion and protector to their 427-year-old aunt. “How would you like to be shut up for hours with a nervous, fussy old lady who’s convinced every tradesman who comes to the door is there to slay her?”
“It’s naughty to fret, but I do think washing dishes and keeping things tidy is the worst work in the world. It makes me cross,” Beth said.
“I don’t believe any of you suffer as I do,” cried Amy, “for you don’t have to go to school with impertinent girls who plague you if you don’t know your lessons, and laugh at your dresses, and label your father if he isn’t rich, and insult you when your fangs aren’t nice.”
“If you mean libel, I’d say so, and not talk about labels, as if Papa was a pickle bottle,” advised Jo, laughing.
As young readers like to know “how people look,” we will take this moment to give them a little sketch of the four sisters, who sat knitting away in the near dawn, while the December snow fell quietly without, and the fire crackled cheerfully within. It was a comfortable room, though the carpet was faded and the furniture very plain, for a good picture or two hung on the walls, books filled the recesses, chrysanthemums and Christmas roses bloomed in the windows, and a pleasant atmosphere of home peace pervaded it.
Margaret, the eldest of the four, looked to be about sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. A year younger, Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with
her long limbs, which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see everything and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long, thick hair was her one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net, to be out of her way. Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn’t like it. (Although her transformation to vampire brought an abrupt end to the growth spurt, the awkwardness of her appearance remained a permanent fixture.) Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, appeared to be an ashen-faced, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her “Little Miss Tranquility,” and the name suited her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved. Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person, in her own opinion at least. A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like a young vampire lady mindful of her manners.
Each girl looked as if she’d been alive for scarcely more than a decade, especially Amy, whose pallid complexion could do little to mute her youthful energy, but they had all undergone the Great Change thirty-two years previous, which made them vampires of some experience. However, they were still considered adolescents, for vampires lived very long lives indeed and thirty-odd years was scarcely a fraction of it. Therefore, in all the ways that mattered, the March girls, although chronologically older than their mortal counterparts, were perched just as precariously on the edge of womanhood.
The clock struck six. Mother was coming, and everyone brightened to welcome her.
“I’ll tell you what we should do,” said Beth, “let’s each get Marmee something for Christmas, and not get anything for ourselves.”
“That’s like you, dear! What will we get?” exclaimed Jo.
Everyone thought soberly for a minute, then Meg announced, “I shall get her a rabbit to feed on.”
“A squirrel,” cried Jo.
“A bunny,” said Beth.
“I’ll get a little mouse. It won’t cost much, so I’ll have some left to buy my fang enhancements,” added Amy.
“How will we give the things?” asked Meg.
“Put them on the table, and bring her in and see her open the bundles. Don’t you remember how we used to do on our birthdays?” answered Jo.
Having decided how to present their gifts, the girls discussed where to buy them, for the only store on Main Street that sold small animals was a pet shop and they didn’t know how Mr. Lewis would feel about providing tasty delicacies for their mother. Concord was an integrated town, where vampires could live peacefully in the open, but there were still moments when reminders of a vampire’s particular lifestyle could make the locals uncomfortable.
Though they were eager to buy presents, they had to stay indoors, for the sun was about to rise. Jo suggested they practice hunting vampire slayers, her favorite occupation, and the girls complied reluctantly, for they didn’t share Jo’s passion. Meg was the slayer and Jo tracked her to the attic closet, where her quarry had already chopped the heads off Beth’s poor, blameless doll. Beth protested the unfair abuse and attached a neat little cap to the poor invalid’s neck. As both arms and legs had been removed during a previous field exercise, she had to wrap the deformed doll in a blanket.
Her sisters laughed at the makeshift hospital ward she assembled.
“Glad to find you so merry, my girls,” said a cheery voice at the door, and the girls turned to welcome a tall, motherly lady with a “can I help you” look about her which was truly delightful. She was not elegantly dressed, but a noble-looking woman of forty biological years, and the girls thought the gray cloak and unfashionable bonnet covered the most splendid mother in the world.
“Well, dearies, how have you got on tonight? There was so much to do that I didn’t come home to dinner. Has anyone called, Beth? How is your cold, Meg? Jo, you look tired to death. Come and kiss me, baby.”
While making these maternal inquiries, Mrs. March took off her artificial teeth to reveal her well-appointed fangs. Some vampire ladies in the community thought it was just the thing to walk around with their teeth hanging out, but Marmee thought naked fangs were an indecency on par with naked ankles.
As they gathered about the table, Mrs. March said, with a particularly happy face, her fangs gleaming white in the firelight, “I’ve got a treat for you.”
A quick, bright smile went round like a streak of moonshine. Beth clapped her hands, and Jo cried, “A letter! A letter! Three cheers for Father!”
“Yes, a nice long letter. He is well, and thinks he shall get through the cold season better than we feared. He sends all sorts of loving wishes for Christmas, and an especial message to you girls,” said Mrs. March.
“I think it was so splendid of Father to go at all when the war has nothing to do with vampires,” said Meg warmly.
The War Between the States was over the moral issue of slavery, which was indeed of little interest to vampires. However, slave quarters were verdant feeding grounds for vampires south of the Mason-Dixon Line, for their inhabitants were often too tired from days of backbreaking, abusive labor to put up a fight, and the slaves who disappeared were often mistakenly assumed to have fled north with the help of abolitionists. Being an ethical vampire with implacable morals, Mr. March felt he should do his part to help win the war his kind had unintentionally started by making it seem as though the North was interfering extensively in private Southern business.
“Don’t I wish I could go as a drummer, a vivan—what’s its name? Or a nurse, so I could be near him and help him,” exclaimed Jo, who would rather do anything than work for her awful aunt March.
“When will he come home, Marmee?” asked Beth, with a little quiver in her voice.
“Not for many months, dear. He will stay and do his work faithfully as long as he can, and we won’t ask for him back a minute sooner than he can be spared. Now come and hear the letter.”
They all drew to the fire, Mother in the big chair with Beth at her feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of the chair, and Jo leaning on the back, where no one would see any sign of emotion if the letter should happen to be touching.
Very few human letters were written in those hard times that were not touching, especially those which fathers sent home, and this vampire letter was no different. In it little was said of the hardships endured, the dangers faced, or the homesickness conquered. It was a cheerful, hopeful letter, full of the comical lengths Mr. March often had to go to in order to avoid sunshine. He’d joined the army as a chaplain and tried very hard to stay inside his tent during daylight hours, but this was not always practical, as war followed no schedule. Only at the end did the writer’s heart overflow with fatherly love and longing for the little vampire girls at home.
“Give them all of my dear love and a kiss. Tell them I think of them by night, pray for them by day, and find my best comfort in their affection at all times. A year seems very long to wait before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, so that these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully and fight their bosom enemy bravely,” he said, referring to the demon beast that lived inside them all. It was a daily challenge to overcome their vampire natures, but Mr. March knew his girls could do it and from afar he urged them to “conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little vampire women.” Everybody sniffed when they came to that part. Jo wasn’t ashamed of the great bloody tear3 that dropped off the end of her nose and landed in a bright red splatter on her otherwise pristine dress, and Amy never minded the rumpling of her curls as she hid her face on her mother’s shoulder and s
obbed out, “I am a selfish girl! But I’ll truly try to be better, so he mayn’t be disappointed in me by-and-by.”
“We all will,” cried Meg. “I think too much of drinking cow and deer blood and wearing beautiful silk gloves, but I won’t anymore, if I can help it.”
“I’ll try and be what he loves to call me, ‘a little vampire woman,’ and not be rough and wild, but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else,” said Jo, thinking that keeping her temper at home was a much harder task than facing a rebel or two down South.
Beth said nothing, but wiped away tears with the blue army sock and began to knit with all her might, losing no time in doing the duty that lay nearest her, while she resolved in her quiet little soul to be all that Father hoped to find her when the year brought round the happy coming home.
Mrs. March broke the silence that followed Jo’s words, by saying in her cheery voice, “Do you remember how you used to play Vilgrim’s Progress4 when you were young things? Nothing delighted you more than to have me tie my piece bags on your backs for burdens, give you hats and sticks and rolls of paper, and let you travel through the house from the cellar, which was the City of Destruction, up, up, to the housetop, where you had all the lovely things you could collect to make a Celestial City.”