Kaleb Swann watched the corpse on the grass, hands stuffed into the depths of his pockets. She had been dead for hours. Her skin was the color of alabaster and her right arm snapped in three places behind her back. A puddle of crimson pooled around her lifeless form and her gaping throat welcomed his thirst. He took a step towards the dead woman and his nostrils flared with the scent of blood. A pain gripped his jaw, fierce and uninvited. The craving sent a tremble through his bones, one that made him reel back and nearly collapse. It was his own fault for not feeding earlier in the night, but never would he stoop to feeding off the leftovers of another.
Moving away from the corpse, he waited until his knees ceased their shaking. He circled the body at a safe distance. A wedding band gleamed on her finger in the moonlight, her left arm twisted beneath her weight at an awkward angle. He caught a glimpse of her ashen face as he bent down. From beyond the pale stretch of skin over bone, a pair of horrified green eyes stared at him. They were both clouded with the first hint of death and pained with the last memory of life. He yearned to grant her peace, to reach out and close her eyelids. She deserved to be at rest, but as he took a step in her direction the feeling in his jaw returned. He was too weak to near the woman, too weak to grant her last rights. She would have to wait until daylight, until someone with a pulse discovered her.
He shifted his gaze across the property to a crooked farmhouse, reluctant to watch the corpse any longer. The weathered home stood beside a lush pasture filled with daisies. The fragile flowers waved in a soft breeze that swept up the sweet scent of late summer. His nostrils flared, intermingled with the smell of wild blooms was the even sweeter smell of blood. It seeped from the yawning screen door ahead of him.
His senses tuned in on the odor as though it were broadcasting at maximum volume and a familiar sensation rushed his canines. He eyed the home for a long moment, absorbing the sight of the peeling clapboards and duct taped windows. The torn screen door slapped against its frame, the darkness beyond, as black as a starless night. Abandoning the dead woman, he threw her a thoughtful glance over his shoulder. She stared at him with dread in her eyes. He ignored her warning, never one to put much stock in the dead. The vampire that did this was gone, only his scent remained, and it was one he knew too well.
One lime green sneaker landed on the rotting porch with a groan. The planks protested loudly beneath his weight. He braced himself against a wobbly rail and chartered his way across the weak boards. A few pairs of muddy shoes were left in front of the looming threshold. He paused out of habit, because on any other night it would have been impossible for him to pass through the doorway. Some ancient rule dictated that a dead man could not enter a home of the living without an invitation. It was a silly rule, but one that nature herself enforced.
He stood at the threshold with obvious reluctance and surveyed the shadow ridden forms of the interior. A cautious step landed him on the linoleum floor and his inner darkness was met with only a slight resistance. He passed off the unpleasant ripple beneath his skin as residual life energy. The household was dead, taken care of by a thirsty vampire, much like himself.
The smell of gingersnaps hit him first, followed by that of ripened apples. There were coloring books scattered across a scarred kitchen table with a few broken crayons peeking out from under their scribbled pages. His keen gaze moved to a refrigerator that was littered with outdated report cards and sentimental photos. He stepped towards it and plucked off a single picture that caught his eye. An alphabet magnet clattered to the ground. He focused on the little girl. A gold embossing on the corner marked it for the present year with the name Delilah. His entire body shuddered at the image of the child and he grabbed eagerly for another photograph. Four handsome faces beamed up at him, and a pang gripped his chest where his heart used to beat. He thought of their fates for a moment, but not too hard, for fear of losing his calm. Folding the pictures into fourths, he shoved them in his pocket and moved towards the dark stairway.
He felt the pain in his bones before he reached the second floor landing. There was emptiness in his stomach that seemed to grow as he took the steps, one at a time. His knees were quaking as he entered the corridor, the smell of death hitting him square in the face. He shut his eyes and braced against the railing for a long moment. The temptation to make for his car seemed all the more appealing. The smell of blood permeated his thoughts like a sweet perfume on a beautiful woman.
Forcing down the feeling of sickness as it burrowed at his gut, his eyes flashed open. He faced the narrow hallway with whatever strength he could muster up. A man perched like a broken marionette against a floral printed wall. The front of his undershirt was deep red and on his lap sat an antique shotgun, most likely for show and not use. A wedding ring gleamed on his beefy finger, similar to the corpse on the lawn, and his neck was mangled and gnawed like a chew toy. Kaleb slipped past, weakness swelling in his legs.
The first door was shut and the name, Delilah, scrawled in pink across the surface. He leaned into the door with his weight and rested a hand on the bloody knob. With a deep inhale, he was met the smell of bubblegum and fruity shampoo, of death and stolen youth. He smashed a fist into the door and it fissured and swung open. A glow from a night light leaked into the hallway and a soft melody danced in the air. A lump under the covers lay still, deathly still. He dared not close the space of the room, fearing the image that would be imbedded in his memory for another hundred years. He lacked the courage, but deep down the thought of reliving the death of his own family was terrifying. He had his own demons to contend with.
Standing in the doorway for some time, his eyes locked on the frilly comforter and princess themed headboard. Disgust overcame him then, unlike any he had experienced in the past three centuries. The revulsion grated his insides, and he swallowed back the burning rush of vomit. Bolting down the hall in a flash, a subtle breeze chased him down, rocking the frames on the wall.
Young blood moved the palette more than the old, sweeter to the taste and easier on the eyes. Different bloodlines had different beliefs, different codes. Kaleb refused the blood of children because vampires had stolen the life of his daughter and his bride, his everything. The years had helped him to accept what he was. He was a monster, but not by choice. He was a disgrace to his own kind only because he had managed to grip that last fine thread of humanity. The only reason he survived in their world was because of his age and antiquity.
Stalling at the next doorjamb, he eyed it with suspicion. Splinters were all that remained in the gap where the door had once hung. It was discarded now across the room like some ancient piece of driftwood. A young woman lay on the ground, doused with blood. Her stomach was torn open and gored, and a puncture wound in her neck was one he recognized, one he knew too intimately. He cringed, taking a step towards her and noting the blood caked around her full lips. He recognized the scent of vampire venom and the pang in the back of his mind reminded him of the painful truth, this was his bloodline.
Less powerful than the scent of blood was that of lavender perfume. The walls were splattered with crimson and a shelf of massive trophies had been knocked over, the relics broken on the ground. Pictures beamed at him from a cork board, all interlaced with the same smiling face of the girl on the floor. The picture in his pocket was suddenly there again, with her beaming face. He threw the human girl a reluctant glance. It was hard to recognize her without the glint of happiness in her eyes, without a grin stretched across her lips. He swallowed and studied her more closely.
Chestnut hair billowed around her head and her slender hand rested over the wound in her abdomen. Crimson rivulets oozed between her long fingers and a slab of moonlight slanted through her window, casting an eerie glow on her pale skin. He watched her much like he watched her mother. The only difference being that this corpse had a chance of waking up.
The girl stirred, her clouded eyes fixed on the cracks in the plaster ceiling. He took a cautious step towards the door, the scar on his chest a burning reminder of how dangerous a new vampire could be. "Help me." He hesitated as the soft whisper sank in around him. "Please." The word was faint, laced with agony. His green sneakers propelled him towards the body, the voice in his head screaming in protest. Karis had almost drained him the night she turned.
The fragile vision trembled like a dead leaf in a wind storm. Her fingers clenched and twitched across her stomach. He sunk to his knees at her side, tuning into the fragile thump of her heartbeat. The shock of hunger rocked him like a gunshot, prompting the tip of his canines to graze his lower lip. He caught himself staring at her bare neck and watching the blood move beneath the surface. The soft drum of her heart echoed in his ears. It was the only sound he could hear. Not even the crickets outside could distract him from the intoxicating scent of blood, living blood.
"Please." And then her voice cut through his trance like a razor blade. He startled backwards and shuffled towards the yawning exit. His dark eyes widened as the realization of what he was about to do came crashing down like a tidal wave. He struggled to his feet on aching joints and braced against the splintered doorframe for support. He was a monster, but not my choice.
Spilling into the dark hallway, his weak body collided with the wall and brought down a family portrait. The sound of it hitting the ground was deafening in his ears. He wavered, grabbing the dead man by a fistful of graying hair and collapsing to his knees. The room spun like a merry go round. He could hardly focus on the floral pattern pasted across the wall. Tilting back the head of the lifeless body, Kaleb exposed the meat of his neck. The impressions made by another vampire caused his lips to curl into a snarl. He told himself he would never stoop to leftovers.
To save the life of a human girl, he sunk his teeth into the cold artery.