Prologue

Friday, April 24

2:01 AM

The soft clicking of keys and the blue glow of a computer screen trickled out from the door of the study. It was well past two in the morning, and yet the clicking continued. Badly painted fingernails, sporting a coat of chipped, sparkly green paint, hit the keys with speed and accuracy, hardly missing. Attached to the fingers were tan, lithe arms, and attached to that, the remainder of a girl, her cinnamon-colored hair in a messy bun, wearing pajamas that consisted of grey shorts and a t-shirt with a faded cartoon picture on it. Her brown eyes flicked across the screen, monitoring her typing, and her breathing hushed, as if the loudest breath would give away her position.

The nocturnal symphony of clicks and clacks was not new to the room. The thirteen year old girl had been put to bed close to four hours ago, and yet promptly snuck back out of her room to finish her work on the computer. Her parents were asleep, she knew, and the essay was due later today.

Pausing for a second to spell check a paragraph she had just typed, Violet listened. She checked to see if she could hear the sound of footsteps, and when she heard none, continued to smack away at the keys, occasionally stopping to flip through her annotated English novel beside the keyboard.

A few more moments later, the essay was completed, and Violet pressed the button to print off her paper, a smile on her face. Sure, she would spend the next day groggy from the lack of sleep, but as long as it meant she was not going to fail English, one day would not be too bad. As the printer began to whir, Violet heard another noise—a crash. She jumped in her seat, looking around, trying to figure out if her clandestine activities had been found out. She saw nothing out of the ordinary.

However, the soft hush of voices flowed to her ears from under the study door. Violet quickly grabbed her essay, turned the computer off, and ran across the hallway to her room. Shutting the door, she turned on the small lamp on her beside table, giving her just enough light to put the essay into the safety of her backpack.

Violet was just about to crawl in bed when she heard another crash.

Jumping again, she realized that it was coming from the kitchen. Breathing deeply, the young girl quietly opened the door to her room, tip toed out into the upstairs landing, and then down the stairs. Poking her head around the corner of the wall and looking into the kitchen, what Violet saw made her pull her head back and warp her arms around her legs, as she listened, trying to silence her breathing.

"Listen, doctor," an unfamiliar voice said, making Violet shudder, "I'm not going to ask you again."

There had been two men in the kitchen with her father, one holding her father's hands behind his back, the other looking him right in the face. She was not sure which one was speaking when, but knew something was not right. The two men were extremely pale, their skin glowing in the moonlight that shone in from the kitchen windows.

"I've told you everything I know!" Violet heard her father plead, "You're wasting your time looking here."

"What if we ask your family, eh?" Another unknown voice asked. Violet let out a small gasp. "I bet you'd tell us then, old man, if you saw their lifeless bodies on the table."

"No!"

The two strangers laughed a horrific, satanic laugh.

Violet began crying, burying her head in her knees, not wanting to die.

"Well then, tell us how to get there, and we'll leave you all peaceable-like."

There was the sound of a struggle, and of her father wincing in pain. "I sent the letter, I don't know where it is now! Believe me, I'm telling the truth. Please, just leave my family out of this."

"No, I don't think we will," a voice goaded, "I think we'll just pop up and say hello to the sleeping beauties."

"No!"

This cry was different from the first, deeper, and more animalistic. Through her soft sobbing, Violet heard the sound of ripping clothing, and more growling. She hugged her legs tighter, unsure of what was going on.

"Stop him!" a voice yelled, before it was cut off by a growling sound.

Violet had her eyes squeezed shut, afraid even to look in front of her.

Then, she heard the sound she least expected, the sound of a gun being fired. Following the two shots, there was a terrible whine, like the sound of an injured puppy.

"You dumb bastard, you shot me!"

"Sorry. Wasn't like I was able to aim or nuthin'."

"Well, is he dead?"

There was a soft clinking sound, like two dimes falling on to the tile floor of the kitchen.

"I think so. I used the special bullets, like the boss said."

A soft thud, and then a small groan.

"Best to do one more, just to make sure. In the head."

The other laughed. "Hah, okay then. It'll make a right mess."

Violet's ears were flooded with a terrible banging, smashing, and squishing noise, all at the same time, and then by the crash of glass breaking. She waited hours, or maybe minutes, or maybe days, she was not sure, waiting for her legs to work. When then did, she stood up, using the wall as a crutch, and peered over at the kitchen. Her dark, watery eyes went first to the large, broken windows, and then down to her father, lying crumpled on the floor. As she saw what had made the sound of the melon, Violet let out an earsplitting scream, and tried to run up the stairs. She fumbled, grabbing the banister for balance as she threw up the remains of her dinner.

Then it all went black.

"And you don't remember anything else, little girl?" the cop asked, his bald head reflecting the luminescent light of the kitchen as his beady eyes ran over the words on the yellow legal pad in his chubby hand.

Violet's mother, the spitting image of Violet herself, only aged, put her arms around her sobbing daughter. "She's told you everything she know!"

"What about you?" the cop said, pointing his pen at Candace Rauls. "You slept through this all?"

The woman looked a mess, still in her pajamas, her hair flying every which way, and tear tracks down her cheeks that looked permanently etched into her face. She kept her shaking arms around her daughter. "I had taken sleeping pills that night," she repeated for the third time, "To help with my insomnia. I woke up a little after seven and found Vie passed out on the stairs, and Leo—" She stopped talking, breaking down into sobs.

The cop patted the mother on her shoulder, glancing to the spot in the middle of the kitchen where the body had laid until this morning, when a crew had come to take it away. Already, some people were helping to patch up the broken windows, all the evidence gathered, doing as best they could with cardboard and duct tape. "Well, I'll leave for now, but I might be back."

Mrs. Rauls only nodded at the cop.

Violet muttered something.

"What's that, sweetie?" her mother asked, looking worried.

"Vam," Violet muttered, still in her pajamas and clutching a large teddy bear to her chest, "Vampires…"

The cop let out a hearty laugh. "I'm sorry, little girl," he said, looking as if she had just told a very funny joke, "But this was a murder, not some little fantasy story." He left through the back door, and as the cop car zoomed away, Violet and her mother sat at the kitchen table, embracing each other, and crying.

The next day, Violet went back to school. All of the teachers had been very sympathetic to her, allowing her to sit in the back of the classroom all by herself, never calling on her. The English essay that she had worked so hard to finish, her teacher told her that she did not have to even turn it in. Ever her three best friends, Ashley, Megan, and Jessica gave her a wide berth.

As the four walked from school towards the Starbucks attached to the grocery store down the road, their Friday ritual, Megan looked over her shoulder, short brown hair dancing about her ears.

"Nerd alert, nerd alert!"

Violet, who had been walking between Jessica and Ashley, felt the two girls' arms go around her shoulders. Weakly, she did the same, as if this pathetic shield of linked arms could protect the four of them from the nerd approaching. They continued this as they walked down the crowded sidewalk from Sartartia Middle School towards the Randalls super market and the shops surrounding it. They reached the place where the sidewalk split. It continued straight down to the crosswalk and the subdivisions beyond it, with a branch breaking off sharply to the left, leading to the shops and the Starbucks inside the Randalls.

Breaking in through the chatter, Violet said, "I don't think I'm going to go with you guys."

"Aww, come on," Megan coaxed, "A grande vanilla bean frap might cheer you up."

Violet shook her head. "Sorry. But you guys go ahead, have some fun."

Each friend took a turn to give Violet a hug and a few encouraging words, and then turned to walk down towards the Starbucks, their chatter resuming a few seconds later. With a sigh, Violet began to walk home, alone.

As she walked, Violet heard a rush of steps behind her, as the bottom of tennis shoes slapped the concrete sidewalk. She turned around to see who it was. Realization spread over her—this must have been who Megan had been talking about.

Everything about the boy seemed too big, except the boy himself. His dirty blonde hair was overgrown, like the front yard of a family that had gone on summer holiday, half obscuring his ears. His glasses looked comical, much too big on his face, magnifying his strikingly green eyes. His body seemed lost in a mass of clothes, his jeans and black The Who t-shirt much too big on him. To Violet, it looked like his clothing was trying to swallow him whole. She could barely even see his shoes, and the frayed bottoms of his jeans were covering them.

"Finally," the boys said, catching up to Violet and then slowing to match her pace. He shifted the raggedy backpack he was carrying. "I thought they would never leave. I'm Isaac, and I was wondering if—"

"Do I know you?"

"No," Isaac replied as they approached the crosswalk. "That was why I introduced myself. I'm Isaac, Isaac Tull—I'm in eighth grade, a year older than you—and I was wondering if you wanted to join a club." As the reached the crosswalk, Isaac pushed the button to cross for Violet.

Waiting for the light to show her that it was safe to cross, Violet said, "Look, I don't care about whatever club you're talking about. And," she added, "There is no way I'm joining the Gaming Guild. Eww."

The lights changed, and a stick person in a walking position appeared in white light, marking it safe for the two middle school teenagers to cross.

"Not that sort of club," Isaac snapped back, looking slightly hurt that she had said that about the Gaming Guild. "This is a different sort of club—not a school one." He looked around, before saying in a softer voice, "It involves vampires."

It was lucky they had crossed the sidewalk when Isaac had said that, because Violet stopped dead in her tracks at the mention of vampires. "Vampires don't exist," Violet muttered, walking down the sidewalk along New Territory Boulevard, the street that cut this half of New Territory in half.

Hurrying in front of her, Isaac put his skinny, pale hands on Violet's shoulders, stopping her. "But they do exist! And you know it. You saw them. Don't believe what they're telling you, Violet."

"Don't touch me," Violet said, eyes tearing up. She shoved Isaac's hands away, storming off.

Isaac hurried after her, the same slapping sound underscoring his pleas. "Don't!" He caught up with her, staying a step behind her for good measure. "I know your sad, but don't you want to do something? Get revenge? Here everyone is telling you you're crazy, and I say I believe you! Do you think you could at least humor me?"

Violet stopped walking again, and crossed her arms over her chest. "Look, I'm still trying to get used to the fact that my dad is dead. I am nowhere near ready to believe that he was killed by something that doesn't exist!"

"But they do!"

Rolling her eyes, Violet asked, "Who else is in this club?" She hoped that if she did indeed humor him, then he would go away.

"I am," Isaac said, looking relieved that she was hearing him out, "And my brother, Connor—he's in high school, a freshman—and Jennifer Fern. Do you know her? She's in seventh grade too, but she went to Brazos Bend, not Walkers Station."

She nodded. Violet knew Jennifer, even though she had gone to the elementary school on the other side of New Territory, the section on the other side of Grand Parkway. The girl wore a lot of dark colors, but Violet had always thought she was pretty normal. "I know Jennifer," Violet said reluctantly. "She was in my science class last year, at least, before I dropped down from Honors Science."

"See," Isaac said joyfully, "We're not crazy. Please, just come to one meeting and see. I'm sure Connor can convince you better than I can."

Violet sighed. She had nothing better to do, and was almost afraid to go home to see her mother, the broken windows, and all the proof that her father had been killed. "Where do you live?" She could spend a few minutes with them, Violet decided, maybe say hi to Jennifer, and then leave.

"Blakely Bend."

"I live in Walkers Station." The two subdivisions were right next to each other, Violet knew, so it would not be too much out of her way. "Lemme just call my mom." Out of her pocket, Violet took out a slim, pink cell phone, held down the number 2 key, and waited for it to start ringing. "Mom? Yeah. Do you mind if I go to a friend's house for a bit? I will. I love you too. Bye mom." As Violet put the phone back in her pocket, she shook her head. Her mother had not even asked what friend, and she sounded like she had been crying just then.

"Friend?"

"Don't get any ideas," Violet warned, as they began walking again.

Isaac smiled anyway. "It's a start. You're going to love the club," he said, "It's the perfect way to get revenge."

Violet raised an eyebrow at him. "Revenge? I don't want revenge."

"You don't now," Isaac countered, "But you will."

She let that go. "What's it called, anyway?"

Isaac smiled even larger, the smile adding to the list of things that seemed far too big on him. "Oh, you'll love it. It's called the Vampire Hunters Club."