Mina’s School for Fanged Girls by Melissa Darcey Hall
In her hundred years of teaching fanged girls, Mina has seen the rules for turning change twice. When she was a teenager, girls only turned if a vampire bit them. They were mostly safe if they stayed home after dark and didn’t fraternize with men. The rules changed in the 1930s, when unmarried women turned overnight on their thirtieth birthday. The newspapers said their spinsterhood turned them into feral man-eaters, desperate for male attention and comfort. This lasted through the 1960s, until the rules changed a second time and lost predictability. Both the quiet, dutiful housewives and openly lesbian shopkeepers turned, swapping bras and hair curlers for cigarettes and denim pants. Now, fifty years later, the rules remain inconstant. Some girls gain fangs from kissing too many boys (or daydreaming about it) or swearing in public too often. And sometimes girls just wake up with all the signs: fanged teeth, ashen skin, a distaste for sun and color, a preference for black clothing, an active libido, and an unquenchable thirst for blood that leaves them mercurial and violent when hungry.
Out of fear their daughters will remain alone and rejected from society, their parents send them to Mina’s School for Fanged Girls to learn how to behave like proper young ladies. While the school has been a resounding success since year one, these last few decades have tested Mina’s patience and energy. Today’s fanged girls aren’t like her kind. They listen to angry music, wear baggy clothing with rips and holes, and shout profanities. These are not fanged girls who fear their condition; they celebrate living on the fringe. Mina won’t allow this to stand. It will be another demanding summer, but she’s up for the challenge.
On orientation day in June, fifteen families arrive after sunset with fanged girls, some irritable, others sobbing into mucous-stained shirt sleeves. None of them want to be here. Piling out of cars, the fanged girls size up one another, some as romantic interests, others as competition. Two fanged girls wrestle in the grass until a pair of security guards separate them. Another two make out until Mina slaps their hands with a silver ruler. The fanged girls hiss and bare their teeth, but they’re no match for Mina, and they know it. Mina has more than one hundred years of experience on them, can dodge any stake, and withstand wearing silver (gold being too garish, even if more comfortable). She is physically domineering—five-foot-ten, plus another two inches from her square-toe heeled shoes she wears everyday—and has the stare-and-glare down that every schoolteacher of rebellious students needs. The wrinkle between her eyebrows that deepens every summer has come in handy, emphasizing her trademark look that shows disappointment, disgust, and a warning all at once.
Mina doesn’t allow for much chitchat amongst the families. Once assembled in the main hall, Mina recites the speech she’s given for the last hundred years. With a promising future ahead of her as the wife of a successful lawyer, a man destroyed her life by killing her fiancé, Jonathan, and turning her into a fanged girl. While she could have become like all the others—blood-thirsty, vengeful, and a menace to society—she remained respectable. Thinking it cruel that a woman could turn into something against her will, her mission is to help young fanged girls reclaim their femininity and fight their dark urges, just as she did. They will learn to accept their immortality as a curse, not a gift, and will do their best to follow the moral code of humans. And when their husbands die, they will stake themselves in the heart to join them. Mina promises transformation in two months: “The next time you see your daughter, her biggest concern will be running for homecoming queen.” The fanged girls who don’t graduate in August remain for the rest of the year for a more intensive education.
The parents nod, satisfied. They want normal daughters, not capricious, irascible, and hungry heathens who shirk rules, speak their minds, and do as they please.
Following her speech, Mina gives a tour of the school grounds: a ten-room brick mansion built in the 1890s, sitting at the center of a five-acre parcel. She still remembers the challenges of building the mansion when she first arrived in California. The contractor told her the Gothic revival was out of style, that the stained glass windows would darken the interior, that the vaulted ceilings would steal the heat from the rest of the house, leaving its residents cold in the winter months. But in the end, Mina got what she wanted, gable roof and all. She explains all this to the parents, as if to supply further evidence of her powers of persuasion, while shuffling them up the stairs and through the dorm rooms and shared bathroom.
Back downstairs, they pass through the main classroom and end at the athletic fields, where the parents say their goodbyes. As parents pile into their cars, crying mothers ask what they did to birth such a brute of a girl. Fathers take one last worried look at their unlovable, strange daughters, wondering if no one ever loves or marries them, then what? Mina waves until the last car disappears, then turns back to the fanged girls behind her. Time to begin.
She checks her watch. Eight o’clock, right on schedule for bedtime. Mina always has the families arrive in the evening. It’s best if the fanged girls have a shorter first day.
The one good thing about this generation of fanged girls is their sleep schedule. Because of school hours, they’re forced to appear in the daylight and follow a somewhat normal sleep pattern. Nonetheless, when Mina announces the first rule—lights out by nine o’clock—the fanged girls whine.
“I can’t fall asleep until at least two!” a fanged girl moans. Several others nod in agreement.
“The night hours are for witches only, and you’re not witches, are you?” Mina asks.
“No, we’re vampires,” a redhead with thick black eyeliner and a nose ring says.
“Not for long,” Mina says. “You will live the life of a normal woman, a good woman. All of you, get some sleep. We wake at six.”
She closes the three dorm room doors and locks them, but even through the thick walls she can hear them scream. In the next two months, they will learn to curb those emotions, to feel nothing but happiness and gratitude and joy. But for tonight, Mina slips in a pair of earplugs and falls asleep to the happy thought of ripping out that fanged girl’s nose ring tomorrow morning.
The first morning is always painful. The fanged girls have yet to see their dorm room decor in the morning light: floral wallpaper, carnation-red quilts, and milky-white curtains. It’s a far cry from the punk rock posters, navy blue walls, and tightly shuttered blinds the fanged girls are used to back home. At six in the morning, Mina draws the curtains in each room, waking the fanged girls from their heavy sleep.
“It fucking burns!” a fanged girl shrieks.
“You’ll get used to it.”
Mina has no sympathy for the poorly behaved. She guides the fanged girls to the communal bathroom, snapping at them to hustle. They can’t be late for their first lesson.
“We’re too tired,” another moans, but Mina reminds them that there are no excuses for neglecting appearances, especially since this generation of fanged girls can see themselves in mirrors. She’s still shocked by the trend of heavy black eyeliner and blackberry-hued lips. As if any man would want to approach that, let alone kiss it. She hates the way these girls embrace their monstrous selves, their demon-like tendencies. But Mina has a plan for this.
In the bathroom, a Clinique skin care specialist and MAC makeup artist guide them through their new morning ritual.
“How long do we have to do this?” a fanged girl asks.
“Every morning and night until you die,” Mina snaps.
The Clinique specialist goes first, explaining their four-step cleansing routine: face wash, toner, spot treatment, moisturizer. Never get those steps out of order! Repeat morning and night! Use the spot treatment liberally on every pimple! The fanged girls are sloppy, vigorously rubbing their faces with soap, spilling toner on the counter, and applying too much moisturizer.
“Gentle!” the Clinique specialist reminds them. “Your skin is delicate!”
Next, the MAC makeup artist teaches a five-product face tutorial: foundation, concealer, blush, mascara, lip gloss. A fanged girl complains she hates makeup, another searches frantically for black eyeshadow, and a third scowls at the blush. The MAC makeup artist addresses each concern: no girl hates makeup, black eyeshadow is for Halloween, and blush is a must for concealing their unattractive pallor. Meanwhile, Mina checks for body jewelry. Of the fifteen fanged girls, she removes seven nose rings, five belly button rings, two tongue studs, and one eyebrow barbell.
“Last but not least, lip gloss. Not only attractive to the boys but also a reminder: no biting!”
Returning to their rooms, hair brushed and faces transformed, the fanged girls find their black ripped jeans, band T-shirts, and plaid shirts replaced with Lilly Pulitzer dresses, Kate Spade skirts, and Ralph Lauren sweater vests.
“This is shit!” a fanged girl hisses.
Mina considers this the perfect time to introduce the swear jar, along with the other rules: no eye rolling and no middle fingers.
“Fuck your swear jar,” a fanged girl jumps in before Mina explains that for every swear collected, she adds another romantic comedy to the list of required viewing.
The fanged girls howl and Mina ushers them downstairs for their first etiquette lesson. She teaches them to sit up straight, chew with their mouths closed, and say “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry.” With the help of the groundskeeper, a kind but dull man, the fanged girls learn to laugh at bad jokes and to smile every time a man enters the room. They resist and cry and bare their fangs when Mina reprimands them for forgetting a rule.
“Why do I have to smile if I’m not happy?” one asks.
“Why should I compliment a dumb joke just because a man said it?” another groans.
“Because no one likes a nasty woman,” Mina says. She reminds them that boys like nice, sweet girls, not ugly, scowling loud mouths who share every thought that pops into their heads.
“What if we like girls?” a fanged girl asks.
“We’ll fix that.” Mina pats her shoulder.
The days in June blur into one long repetitive routine. In the mornings, the fanged girls learn how to curl their hair with straightening irons, how to find the right lipstick color for their skin tone, how to pluck their eyebrows. At breakfast, they snarl at their tea, begging for coffee and something more nourishing than fruit and yogurt parfait. They eat slowly, hoping to miss their physical fitness lesson, but it never works.
Each week, they explore a new form of fitness. They’re terrible at ballet, but decent at thwacking tennis balls with rackets. Mina suspends field hockey after the second day, when the goalie knocks the other team’s player unconscious with the stick for sneaking the puck past her net. As punishment, they return to ballet.
“Plié! Relevé! Tendu, tendu!” Mina claps to the tock-tock of the metronome.
The fanged girls sigh and yelp when Mina yanks their shoulders back and reminds them to tilt their chin high and keep their eyes off the floor.
“A lady walks with confidence and grace!” Mina says, swatting at hands, yanking wedgies and ripping their sandy-hued tights.
Their pliés are atrocious—knees akimbo and heels convulsing four inches off the ground—but their tendus are sharp and militant.
“It’s like your foot is a knife and you’re stabbing someone,” Mina overhears a fanged girl whisper to another.
By the end of the hour, their powder-pink leotards are dark with sweat. Most refuse to wear deodorant, claiming it a tool of the patriarchy, and Mina has too many more important battles to fight, so instead she demands they shower before lunch.
After their showers, it’s lunch, which is salad. Always salad.
In the afternoon, they learn how to paint their nails (red or pink or purple; black is banned), draw butterflies, and play piano. They’re terrible at applying nail polish, but at least it disguises their ravaged cuticles. The drawn butterflies bare fangs and eat other butterflies, but at least they use purple pencil instead of black. During piano lessons, they only want to learn cover songs of Linkin Park and the Darth Vader song from Star Wars. When they invent songs with ugly lyrics about Mina (in one, the only verse is “Professor Mina has gonorrhea,” sung to the tune of “La Cucaracha”), she suspends piano lessons altogether.
By dinner, the girls are famished, tearing into their meatloaf, green beans, and potatoes. It’s no replacement for blood, but that’s the price to pay for being a proper lady. After dinner, they move through the 1950s to the early 2000s in films: Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sabrina, Annie Hall, Pretty in Pink, Can’t Buy Me Love, Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, She’s All That, Say Anything, Bridget Jones’s Diary. The girls hate Molly Ringwald, want to punch Freddie Prinze Jr., and want to make out with Julia Roberts and John Cusack. But when Mina hears a few whispered squeals as Colin Firth kisses Renée Zellweger, she knows the fanged girls are making progress.
In July, Mina confiscates a bottle of black nail polish. As punishment for the contraband, she forces the fanged girls to apply acrylic nails, several millimeters long and oval-shaped so they can’t scratch themselves or each other. For days, they struggle to hold forks and hairbrushes. When half of them break off the nails within a week, Mina gives up. The nails aren’t worth the battle. Instead, she forces them to sit through a recording of the Royal Opera House’s Sleeping Beauty. Several fanged girls whine about misogyny and consent, but Mina reminds them that no one likes a mouthy feminist. They must cry whenever the music crescendos and ooh and ahh when a man appears onscreen. Two of them cry, bloody tears running down their cheeks. In a fit of anger for ruining their mascara, they storm to their rooms and shred their pillows in half; the stuffing sits torn and limp on the ground like roadkill.
Mina should be furious about the pillows, but she’s pleased with the show of emotion. It’s a sign of progress. She wears her signature stern look—brows furrowed, arms crossed, and index finger tapping—to maintain appearances, but when she returns to her bedroom later that night, she smiles. If only she could see herself in a mirror, she could admire her red-stained lips, her powder-bronzed skin, her honey-hued highlights. Instead, she slides her tongue across her shaved down canines and runs her fingers through her hair, still at breast-length, even hundreds of years later. If only Jonathan was alive! She’d have made an excellent wife: a well-mannered young lady for a fine gentleman. No one would have expected—or suspected—anything else. If she can’t have this life for herself, she can at least teach as many fanged girls as she can to embrace it.
Their lessons advance. By the end of July, the fanged girls are masters in concealing their ashen skin and tempers. The bloodlust takes time to quell, but many succumb to the meatloaf replacement.
“It’s not that bad,” a few admit.
Some experiment with lipstick shades and discover there are pinks with blue undertones and orange undertones. A handful discover tap dance as an outlet for expressing their feelings, while others master tennis. They embrace the pink unitards, the black tap shoes, the white tennis skirts. Mina nods in satisfaction. These are the fanged girls who will graduate in August and enjoy normal lives. They will go steady with a boy in high school, study art history in college, marry and start a family, and serve on their children’s school PTA. They will hide their fangs, quell their instincts, and mind their manners.
There are always a few fanged girls who shirk the rules and refuse to comply. No matter how many reminders, they forget a step in their makeup routine or skip washing their face at night. She finds them in dark hallways and corners of rooms, headphones blasting loud, angry music in which the lead singer screams and wails. They scribble furiously in notebooks, sketching abstractly shaped naked bodies and the inner stomachs of possums and other roadkill.
“What is that?” Mina dares to ask.
“The intestines,” the fanged girl says. “Crows ripped them out.”
Some take up writing, but instead of letters to family, they write horrible stories about death, sex, and power dynamics, and ugly poems littered with grotesque words like “devour,” “sticky,” and “ravage.” Others use razors to sharpen their teeth in bathroom mirrors, fray the hems of dresses, and claim makeup is a mask they won’t wear to gain society’s approval. These are the ones who will need more than a summer to transform, but, as Sophocles said, even wild horses learn to yield.
August arrives. As the last test, Mina’s School for Fanged Girls hosts an annual summer soirée with two dozen brave boys from the community in attendance. Each fanged girl partners with a boy, and they are to dance and behave like nice young ladies, Mina commands. It’s been over a decade since anyone died at this event and she wants to keep it that way. Mina passes out a “how to behave like a young lady” checklist of expectations they are to memorize. This is a test they need to pass if they want to leave at the end of summer. Plus, the fanged girl who performs best, and receives the most points on their checklist, as judged by Mina, gets to skip one day of class.
In candy-hued dresses, the fanged girls force pained smiles, mouths closed to hide their teeth, and bend their knees in stiff curtsies. Check, check, and check. They dance to ballads and pop songs, say “please” and “thank you” when their dates offer them a glass of punch, and laugh at their jokes, even when they aren’t funny. Check, check, check. Some lose points for complaining, growling, rolling their eyes, or swearing; those who swapped their heels for Doc Martens sit near the bottom of the rankings, out of the race before it even started. A handful of others lose points for rejecting a kiss from their date or kissing too much.
The night runs smoothly until one boy gets too handsy with his date. When she slaps him hard enough that his nose bleeds, three fanged girls pounce on him. Mina blows a whistle and security runs over with silver chains and garlic. The fanged girls hiss, but they obey and release the boy. He has multiple bites, but he’ll survive. Those who attacked him apologize. Mina writes each boy a check with several zeroes and sends them on their way. The dance ends early, and, while disastrous in some ways, Mina considers it a success. Summer school is over.
At the end of August, the fanged girls say goodbye. The tamed ones gently fan their eyes so the bloody tears don’t ruin their mascara. The bad ones who will stay for the school year snarl in their rooms, peering out their windows as the tamed ones greet their families and climb into cars.
As much as they drive her crazy, Mina is always emotional watching her successful projects leave to return to the real world. If she could, she’d collect them as trophies and line them on a shelf in the main hall. This was Ariel, Frida, and Chantelle, all good girls who hide their fangs. Of course, a few of the good ones will relapse. There’ll be an accident at a party, a misunderstanding with the neighbor’s pet, or a reintroduction of foul language and baggy clothing, and they’ll return to Mina. Not all fanged girls can be gentle, obedient, and good, but Mina’s determined to turn as many as she can.
Melissa Darcey Hall is a writer and high school English teacher in San Diego, California. Her work has appeared in Fugue, Five South, The Florida Review, The Louisville Review, Columbia Journal, Pigeon Pages, Epiphany, and elsewhere.