There is a pleasure sure,

In being mad which none but madmen know.

Quote By John Dryden

As far as I remember, it's always been this way. The curse that was cast upon my people, a game, so twisted and sinister that only the one who cast the words found it fitting.

The curse was centuries old and no one knew who would inherit it next. The rules were simple enough, and deadly, too. Once born with the curse, the vessel has seventeen years of free life. On the eighteenth anniversary of the vessel, a.k.a. the eighteenth birthday, they have two choices. The first choice is to keep living and kill other people, one person for every year that you live after eighteen. The second is to stop your own heart, yourself, and save all the people you could have killed.

There was also a twist to the first choice. If the person chose to live, that person becomes immortal and they cannot kill themselves later if they want to stop the killings. They have to be murdered, and by a person of pure heart, too. The dark gods won't let the person die easily either. They protect them, shield them, heal them, etc.

It is a game of the ultimate choice, and it's lived since the witch of fiery fell in love with a townsman. He couldn't choose between anything, ever. She hated that aspect of him so greatly, so she made him choose, one thing, and only that. He chose to live, knowing the consequences. Twelve years after that, the witch was killed by the townsman and she vowed for the descendants of that town would to carry the curse, forever paying for his mistake.

The curse passes from person to person, from death to birth, as close as a second. At the beginning, there were only fifty-eight people in the town. Now, there are nearly a hundred descendants, some of them don't even know of the danger. But there is one way to see if your child had this curse. In the palm of his or her left hand would be a nearly white birthmark which took the shape of a chalice or a cracked heart. The chalice meant that if you chose to live, you would kill people who did the wrong things, the bad people with black hearts. The cracked heart meant the death of decent, good people, the kind that could do harm to you.

One last thing, no normal weapon can kill the cursed vessel. Only one item, in the hands of the right person, can kill the person. The Staff of Delirium, the staff which the witch carried and cursed us with.

I walk around my home town every day.

Every day, I get the stares and glares of hatred, distaste, disgust and pity by everyone who lives here in New Heart.

It's unavoidable; I've known that since birth. I was marked with the cracked heart from the curse that's plagued our town for so long. I had two years and one day from today to make my choice.

Tomorrow, February 1st, Imbolc, was my birthday, and will be my death, one way or another. But, I'd already decided my fate and made the necessary arrangements to follow suit. I hoped it would work. On all the corpses of the previous vessels, there was no symbol of death on their palm. It dead when the vessel died, but, I hope my choice will have the same reaction to this retched, menace. That the symbol will go away.

My choice was made. No being told me what to do. No one except for Fay De Ra, Fay for short, knew my choice. Fay was my pet cat. All the vessels had cats for pets, they were our protectors. Fay De Ra was named so she would be strong, a pure heart, it meant something close to 'spirit of sun and life'. It didn't really matter; just that she was special, at least to me.

We live on an isle about thirty-five miles off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey. We aren't on any maps, anywhere. The isle itself is just New Heart, one mile long and half a mile wide. The land was extremely fertile, and the animals helpful. New Heart owned the isle as well. The Americans were not to touch our soil and we would not have enmity toward them and curse their land.

In New Heart, everyone has duties, mine are like every other girl's duties with one add-on, vessel of the curse. Other than that detail, I kept the fields, did the laundry, went to school everyday, helped make the clothing, and any other task need to be done on occasion. Life in New Heart would be like life in an Amish community, just without the religious stuff and more nature stuff.

"Ebony, are you going to school this morning? I suspect that the teacher will be so happy that you're going to be late, again. Come on," Avery whined from the fields outside. She was my older sister, and yes, those are our real names. All the townsfolk of New Heart are named after something natural, my named turned out to be Ebony when they saw the heart on my hand.

I ran past Mother on my way to school, just like any other day.

School was just a group of buildings made of rounded grey stones and cement. Though most people on the isle hated me because of my birth curse, I had one friend, and he was like me, in a way. Ash was the one who showed me a third option to the curse, and in theory, it would work.

Ash was the most alienated student and I was second. No one knew why they didn't like him; except me. He was a vampire, the real kind, which, as it turned out, was nothing like any vampire ever written about in books or movies or anything else. But, he had immense power that enabled him to literally control his physical appearance, so nobody actually would be able to discover him or his parents. He'd told me five years ago tomorrow. Ash invited me over on my birthday when I was ten, but he didn't invite me over at a regular time.

It was just after high moon, in other words midnight. He was standing in the fields throwing pebbles through my window, brushing my right side as they landed. I leaned against the windowsill and he was there. Everything was beautiful that night, colourless except for our eyes; his were a beautiful purple-red which most people found repulsive, yet, I thought it suited him quiet well. Mine were the colour of royal purple velvet cloaks.

"Come for a walk with me?" He smiled gently.

I didn't say anything, just jumped onto the windowsill and landed on the other side at the edge of the fields. "Where are we going?"

He shook his head, took my left hand and began to walk, "Happy birthday, Ebony."

"Happy birthday, Ash," I replied

We were walking into the shadowy forest. His hand was chilly, like he put it in the ocean before he came here. It was quiet in the forest, not a creature rustling. Somewhere in the forest, we stopped. It was a house, his house. He pulled me through the open door and lit a candle, which lit another, seven in a row on each side.

"I have something to tell you, and," he looked away, into the flickering flame of the first candle. "I want you to know, that I will never, never harm you or anyone else. I never have, and never will."

Ash's mother, Mrs. Windre came from the shadows at the back of the long room; Mr. Windre stood behind her.

They nodded together in encouragement.

"Well, I have a way of saving you from the curse, but, not now, no, but before the birth of death at the very least. You see, I am a vampretreskas," he looked alarmed when I stopped breathing. Ash shook me violently, making my teeth rattle. I could not see anything, everything was blurred and unidentifiable. It all made sense, though, he was never afraid of me. He was ostracized even worst than I was.

It made sense, Ash Windre, my closest friend, was a vampire.

"Ebb?" Ash's voice came from beside me. "Ebb, are you okay? C'mon Ebony, talk to me."

I jolted upright, unaware that I was on the ground in the first place. Ash was kneeling beside me, staring at me with bleary eyes. Somehow, I managed to hit him with my head on the way up.

"Yeah, uhh… what happened? Where's Avery?"

"Avery went to get help. I saw you guys walking here and then, all of a sudden, you collapse. I didn't know what to do. I mean, you started to spasm and your eyes; they looked like you'd died." He took my hand and pulled me to my feet. But, he didn't let go.

"Uhh… can I have my hand back?" I said after a minute.

He released it and looked away, into the forest. "It's going to work, our plan, I mean."

I tilted my head to one side and looked at him curiously.

"The forest talks to me. They like you, ya know. They said that the mark of death will be lifted once your heart stops, and, as you know," he inched closer and whispered in to my ear. "I have no heartbeat."

He was so happy all the time, always smiling at me. I never understood why he was always so happy around me. I just kept drawing blanks.

I brushed the bracken off my skirt and we started toward the school, not wanting to be late. Avery was sure to be there, it was the closest building with adults around. And there she was, now running toward us with two teachers at her back.

Rosamund Stormwind, the teacher for physical activities and healing, was carrying a handful of herbs. Fern Woodstride, the principal, was there also. He probably wouldn't have come except that I was the curse's vessel and he probably wanted to know if I killed myself already or not.

"I'm alright," I called to them. They didn't slow in the least. Avery came to a gentle stop approximately ten feet away, an annoyed look on her face. Rosamund came closer, examining my eyes with the bright sunlight at her back. She honestly looked concerned, whether that was a real expression or not, I didn't care. Being the object of stares for sixteen long years began to make me bitter, though, as never said anything about the taste of my blood. Just my mood whenever someone stared at me.

Ash knew me better than any person on the isle, including my parents. He knew the parts of the curse that didn't really apply but were side effects, all because he knew me. One day, we even made a list of the other side effects. Bitterness was in the top five. Right above it was the object of many stares. But the top one was a search for the inner truth. There was also fear and pain weaved into it somewhere.

Ash slipped his hand through mine again, this time I didn't object, though I don't know why I allowed it. I hated school, every damn minute of it. I hated New Heart and its cursed descendants.

One year and three hundred and sixty-four days later…

The tap on the window startled Fay De Ra, but I was prepared for it. Ash was in the shadow of the wall. I grabbed the cat and held her, my baby, one last time. She purred and mewed in my arms, then, Ash walked over and stroked her flank with barely his fingertips. I lowered the cat to my cot and took his hand. We jumped out the window and began to walk toward the trees.

Just under the cover of trees he moved me so that my back was against an elm. "Can we talk?"

I smiled. "Certainly," I whispered and blushed a little in the darkness, though, I knew he could see.

"Are you sure of the course of destiny you are about to take?"

"Yes," I said barely audibly, "I have only two other choices, one to kill and one to die. I want neither of those choices to belong to me, so, I see it as my only bearable option. Besides, I…" I really wish I hadn't said those last to words.

"Besides what," he questioned me.

"Besides, I think I'm in love with you," I whispered as soft as I could manage, softer than the sound of a feather brushing the ground as it landed.

I saw Ash smile; it was a smile that could have illuminated the entire night sky. "You are not the only one who feels that way."

That was when he kissed me. I was in his arms and my body pressed against his.

"I love you, Ebony Waterflower; I love you with my entire existence."

By dawn of the eve of my birthday, I was a vampire. My eighteenth birthday was tomorrow, but I never really made it that far. I don't really know who did it, but someone did stake me with a nightshade soaked piece of metal engraved with the cracked heart insignia, the same that was and still is on my hand; now it lay there in the colour of blood instead of snow.

The short version is that I died. I'm eighteen today, or I would have been. It's been twelve hours since I died, but I can say this one thing. The curse was undone. I'd done it.

My life had fallen to ashes, but still, I couldn't be happier. I'd done what I planned and much more.

I still walk the island of Heart, no longer called New Heart. They just did not see the ghostly heroin that was me. One thing known about vampires is that when you die after death, you and everything your living form had will die with you; including the curse of Heart. Only great people have gravestones in Heart and even greater have epitaphs. Mine was 'Here lies Ebony Waterflower, greatest hero of our entire world. She was the curse's curse and even more. Blessed Be.' None of the other curse vessels had anything like that. It was just me.

I thought it was ironic that one person couldn't make a choice and never would anyone after that person have to choose. It became a curse unraveled.

I never meant for an ending like that.

I only meant to escape the curse's fate for me.

But, truly, I became the curse's curse.