The street was in darkness, save for the pools of light cast by the streetlamps that stood alongside the road ... like a line of strange, barren trees alongside a black river. No cars passed, no light shone in the house windows. All was as it should be at this late hour, not a single living soul left outside.

Except, that was, for a single, solitary girl strolling along the street. She was calm, showing no fear of being alone and outside with the dangers of the modern world. She passed beneath one of the streetlamps and the light fell over her, highlighting her dark hair, her light blue eyes; accentuating her thin frame and her pale skin.

Too thin, too pale ... no human ever had skin that shone as white as the full moon, or that was tinted with green and blue.

The girl paused; looking up at the light source ... her pupils did not contract. Her lips twisted into a smile and she raised a bony hand, shielding her eyes, adjusting the position of her hand to cover the light.

Then she closed her fingers, as if ensnaring something within them. The light dimmed, then faded completely.

She needed darkness for what she was about to do.

She began to move, silent as a shadow, along a line of hedges. Damn this village! Why did everyone have to be inside at this time? And yet it would be harder in a city or a town ... where there were so many people about that it would be impossible not to be seen.

Suddenly she paused, listening. Was that footsteps she heard? Yes ... finally someone was coming. She sank into the shadows, almost melting into the hedges as the footsteps rounded the corner. She heard whistling, saw a beam of torchlight and, in it, the crisp, clean uniform of the local constable. Who said there was never a policeman around when you needed one? The girl moved forward, licking her lips. Ah, he was young, too ... probably new to the job.

She waited, sensing his fear. He hated this, he was afraid ... he'd heard about the deaths ... the strange deaths that left no evidence save the corpses, drained of their blood, expressions of absolute terror etched on their faces forever.

She couldn't take it any longer, she stepped forward, screwing up her face and forcing tears to stain her cheeks. Time to play the poor, defenceless young girl ... again.

"Oh ... help me ...please help me!" she wailed, running towards him.

"Ok love, what's wrong?"

"He's after me ... please ... help me!" she was trying to seem as distraught as possible, hoping he would take the bait. He reached out to her, put a comforting arm around her, pulled her close . It was the moment she had been waiting for.

Suddenly she snarled, drawing back her lips and displaying her fangs; two sharp, pointed white needles. Bat like wings with clawed tips erupted from her shoulder blades and a demonic, red light crept into her eyes. The policeman let out a startled yell and tried to pull away from her, but she held him in a deathly strong grip.

Suddenly she sank her fangs into his neck, relishing his agonised scream. Blood welled up, filling her mouth, running in a warm stream down her throat. He struggled and she held him fast, gulping down his blood, suddenly realising just how hungry she had been.

After a while he ceased to struggle and went limp in her arms. She let him drop and looked down at his crumpled, drained form dispassionately. There was that expression of pure horror that all her victims wore. She carelessly wiped a dribble of blood from her chin and crouched down, using her wings to balance herself.

"No fear, human," she said, "Scarla the vampire kills to feed ... never to transform."

She left him, spreading her wings and leaping into the dark night sky. She paused only to wave her hand at a street lamp and restore the light, then swooped away over the treetops.

She was silent as an owl in the air, as unnoticeable as a shadow. And anyway, who'd ever believe that vampires existed. Stupid, ignorant humans!

Hunting was getting harder and harder, she thought, lowering herself gracefully into a sitting position in the branches of a tree and using her wings to keep her balance. Drat this modern day and age where there were either too few or too many people on the streets! She, Scarla, had often gone for days without feeding. She might be dead, but she needed to feed to gain strength ... and to grow.

She gently, almost lovingly, ran a finger down one of her wings. She had only had them for a couple of days ... she'd been longing for wings for a hundred years, ever since she received the bite and passed into this world of utter freedom.

She grinned. In vampire society she had been considered a fledgling, having only been a vampire for one hundred years. But maybe her wings would change that ... not all vampires had wings. What she needed right now, she mused, was power, a bit of status ... to be able to order about very young fledglings, at least. Then she could claim her share of whatever kill they made, she needn't go hungry again.

Scarla allowed herself to smile and inspected one of her nails. Tomorrow night she'd fly to the Vampire Queen's lair, grovel if she had to, to claim her right as a winged vampire. She cast her eyes at the sky ... it would have to be tomorrow night ... there wasn't much time left before dawn and all vampires, despite their rank, were vulnerable to sunlight.

She stood up, spreading her wings, but a rasping voice stopped her before she could fly off.

"Retiring so soon, Scarla?"

Scarla leapt from the branch and landed neatly, like a cat, on the ground. A tall figure stood before her, the figure of a male vampire with glowing, red eyes and wearing a swirling, black cloak. He had dark skin and there was a rotten look about him ... lumps of flesh hung from his face and his finger bones protruded from his fingertips. He smiled at Scarla ... a smile that would have sent shivers down any humans' spine.

But Scarla felt nothing.

"Hello, Ara'at," she said calmly, folding back her wings and sinking into a slightly sardonic bow, "I would stay and talk, but the sun will be up soon and I must return to my lair."

Ara'at grabbed her chin and tilted her face up to his.

"Don't you take that tone with me, fledgling! I sired you! I demand some respect!"

"You want respect, Ara'at," Scarla barely flinched and her voice never wavered, "Then leave me alone."

"I have just made a kill," Ara'at let her go, changing tact, "Are you hungry?"

"I have eaten."

"So I see," he wiped a smear of blood from her cheek, then tasted it, "Not bad. Young. Strong. You haven't lost your touch. In fact..." he reached out and gently extended on of her wings, examining the webbing, the bone structure, "Nice ... you didn't have these when we met up last week."

Scarla twitched her wing out of his grasp, "What do you want from me? You never claim your right to my kills ... in fact you offer me yours. Why did you sire me?"

She already knew. She had seen the way his eyes roamed over the red dress she was wearing . the red dress that had the splits over each hip, so that her legs were free to move, the one that had the front that tied around her neck and left her back bare from the waist up. In her ears hung two blood- red crystals that winked in the moonlight and around her wrists hung gold bangles with similar inset red jewels. Her feet were bare, save for a jewelled ankle band on her right calf.

"I sired you to save you," Ara'at replied, "I saw you, I saw the way you feared life, the way you were always looking over your shoulder, watching each side of the road as you crossed, jumping at every sound. You were afraid, afraid that something would come and rob you of your breath; your life ... that everything around you would vanish and you would spend eternity in nothingness. You were afraid that the afterlife everyone told you existed wasn't real. Now Scarla, thanks to me, you're invincible. You're immortal, strong, confident..."

"I'm alone!" Scarla replied, "All my friends, my family ... they died a long time ago, never knowing what happened to me, what I'd become!"

"You don't need them! They were human, weak. But you..." he brushed his hand along her cheek,

"You were always strong. And you needn't be alone..."

Scarla flinched away from him, "You can't have me ... I don't want you. You took everything from me!"

Ara'at suddenly looked dangerous, "Tell me, Scarla," he growled, "What was your human name?"

Scarla sighed and shook her head. The truth was that the only name she could remember was the one he had given her when he had changed her. She didn't even remember the names or faces of what she had once called friends and family ... the only family she knew now was her fellow vampires. The human she had once been had died a long time ago.

"I have to go," she said bitterly, turning away from him.

"Go then. Run, Scarla ... but you can't hide. Not from me, not from any other vampire. You're one of us now, don't you forget that!"

How could she? Scarla wondered when she arrived back at the old, dead tree where she always spent the day. She wasn't sure what kind of tree it was, but it was enormous. The inside had started to rot away, even though the roots still held, and a cavity had formed in the ground directly below it, a small cave ... deep enough down that the sun didn't penetrate it. Scarla crept in, crawled as far away from the entrance as possible and curled up, encircling her body with her wings so that they acted like a shield to block out any sunlight that did manage to penetrate the tangled foliage at the entrance, not that it was very likely.

She pushed all thoughts of Ara'at out of her mind and started to plan the next night. Hopefully the bad weather would hold and it would be dark enough for her to go out before sunset and get a head start. She'd have to hunt quickly, or not at all, if she wanted to get to the Queen's lair. Probably the journey would take more than one night and she'd have to find someplace to stay ... perhaps she could break into someone's house, kill any inhabitants and sleep there. It would make a change from this mud hole and she'd get a meal and lodgings on one fell swoop.

A meal ... her stomach growled at the thought of it. She remembered the early days, when she could easily have made three or four kills per night. But not any more, not with modern technology, which meant that people no longer needed to walk. She couldn't get into cars, and to kill someone on a bus or train, in front of witnesses, would mean risking the exposure of her kind.

Every move a vampire made had to be planned with care. Kills had to be made in lonely places, in utter darkness, they had to move with stealth and silence, in the shadows, where possible. Not that anyone was likely to suspect that Scarla was a vampire when they saw her; she could appear human and she took care not to grow her wings in sight of humans ... except her victims. She never flew in front of the moon, even when it was visible, and she knew her bite marks would fade from her victims a matter of minutes after she had finished feeding. And she left no fingerprints.

She frowned. Someone else hadn't been so careful. Someone else was leaving corpses with clear vampire bites lying around ... so much so that people were getting suspicious.

Ara'at? No, he wasn't that stupid. Then who? There couldn't be more than two vampires within the village ... it was a recipe for disaster. There weren't enough inhabitants to go around.

Whoever it was, if they weren't careful they could start a full-scale vampire hunt.

Scarla sighed. That was all she needed ... for her future victims to be on the alert against her. She might even have to move to somewhere a little more hospitable. How annoying. As if her afterlife wasn't pathetic enough already...

What was that?

Scarla lifted her head, her eyes twin points of red light in the darkness. She could hear someone walking around outside; the harsh sound of boots stomping on the ground above her echoed around her little cavern.

She sniffed ... smoke. Someone smoking one of those damn stupid human cigarette things. No; cigarettes didn't produce that much smoke.

"Damn humans!" Scarla muttered, creeping to the entrance and peering out. There was a human boy, perhaps eleven or twelve years old, creeping around in the darkness, a burning torch clutched in his hand.

"You've got to be kidding ... in this day and age?" Scarla was surprised, both by the torch and by the boy being out so late at night. What was he doing?

"Come on, where are you?" the boy muttered, holding the torch out to light up every nook and cranny, "You can't just disappear ... I saw you. I won't hurt you, I promise."

Stupid human, Scarla thought, he must have seen her. Little matter ... he was young, no one would believe him if he said he had seen a vampire. And she could always kill him if he happened to stumble across her hiding place.

He was getting awfully close too; if Scarla had wanted to she could have reached out, grabbed his foot and dragged him into the hole with her. She restrained herself ... it was too close to dawn for her to move the body and someone was bound to come looking for him. She didn't want to be discovered.

"I won't hurt you," the boy said again, "I just want to look at you ... I've never seen anyone fly like you before. Oh ... there you are!"

He was suddenly peering in at her, his grimy face extremely close to hers. Scarla snarled and flinched away from the torchlight, throwing her wings up over her face. The boy barely flinched ... it was if he wasn't scared of her at all.

"Sorry," the boy said breathlessly, sticking the torch into the ground just outside the cave entrance, "My name's Danny, Danny Hunter ... who are you?"

Scarla snarled, baring her fangs. The boy blinked, but showed no surprise or fear. He was small for his age, Scarla thought - thin as a rake, with sandy hair, pale skin and a dusting of freckles. He was wearing a grimy t- shirt with a black bat motive on the front, and faded, threadbare jeans.

"Do ... you ... speak ...English?" he asked slowly and loudly, evidently taking her silence to mean that she hadn't understood him. Scarla swore foully at him and he grinned.

"That's what everyone says. What's your name?"

"Go away, human!" Scarla snapped, her words crashing into each other in her rage.

"Garwayuma? That's a weird name."

"My name is Scarla and I told you to go away, human idiot! You're lucky it's so close to dawn, or I would have killed you!"

"You mean, you would have turned me into a vampire?"

"No, I mean I would have killed you! Scarla the vampire kills to feed, never to sire others."

"Why not?"

"Non of your business!" Scarla was taken aback ... normally people had run away screaming or died by now. Yet here was this boy, never flinching, talking to her as if they were equals, as if they were the same species.

"Don't you like being a vampire?"

"What does that matter? I am what I am, nothing can change that!"

"I don't like being me, sometimes," the boy said, "Sometimes I wish I was someone else. Anyone else. I wish I could fly like you."

Scarla sighed. The boy's words had hit home ... she felt exactly the same way; she hated being what she was. But her human life was far behind her. She couldn't turn back.

"Careful what you wish for, kid. Vampirism isn't all it's cracked up to be."

"Can't be any worse than being me."

"Why? What's happened to you that's so bad?" What was this weird feeling ... this ... this ... pity towards the child? She shouldn't be feeling like this; she was beyond human emotions.

The kid picked at a stray thread on his t-shirt, "Do you have a family?"

"I have my fellow vampires," Scarla replied, asking herself why she was still talking to the kid, "We're like a family..."

"I meant a real family. Brothers and sisters, parents."

"Not any more."

"What happened to them?"

"They were human, they died a long time ago," her voice was emotionless, as if she didn't care, "Where's your family, kid? Won't they be worried about you?"

"Not likely. My father died, my mom's gone to her boyfriend's place and there's no one else."

"Who's looking after you?"

"No one."

"You mean you're on your own?"

He nodded. Scarla was stunned. What parent would leave their child to roam around at this hour and in those clothes? She wrinkled her nose; Goddess, even she didn't smell that bad, and she was dead!

"So what're you doing here? Just looking for me?"

"Yup."

"Why?"

"Cos I've never met a vampire before. Do you really drink blood?"

"Course I do, kid ... what else would I eat?"

"My name's Danny!" he said almost sulkily.

"I know your name's Danny, you told me that already. You didn't say I had to call you that."

Danny rolled his eyes, "Fine, but do you mind if I call you Scarla?"

"Call me what you want, you won't be seeing me any more."

"How come?"

Man, he was annoying, "Because I'm leaving tomorrow, kid. I'm going to see the Vampire Queen."

Danny's eyes suddenly shone with excitement. "Oh, wow! Can I come with you?"

Scarla was about to open her mouth, to tell him that it wasn't the place for him, but stopped herself. Why shouldn't she take the kid? It had dawned on her that the Queen would be expecting some sort of tribute, and if she took this idiot human boy no one would miss him ... not if his mother was as negligent as he said she was. She, Scarla, might be able to get him quite some distance away before anyone noticed his absence.

She paused, pondering this idea. She'd have to take him alive and having him with her would slow her down. On the other hand he was willing to go with her and it would save her the time and energy of kidnapping someone else and dragging them forcefully to the queen's lair. Plus if she left him here he might go blabbing and blow her cover. She couldn't afford to endanger herself like that.

"Sure, kid," she said, making up her mind, "Why the Hell not? Pack your bags, you're coming with me."

"See you tomorrow!" Danny beamed at her and jogged away over the damp grass. Scarla rolled her eyes, then retreated into her hollow as the first hint of sunlight stained the horizon, covered her face with her wings and allowed herself a little smile of satisfaction.

Things were working out better than she had ever imagined.