It was abnormally hot for September. The setting sun still beat as angrily against the caked dirt as it had at noon, my gradually tiring footsteps throwing up little sprays of dust that caught the light. Thick shadows of leaves fractured the light on the path, and I was grateful for the shade. My blouse was soaked with sweat. I held my leather book bag over my head with one arm, trying to shield my face from the sunlight. I wasn't anxious to start school looking like a ripe tomato. I felt the first tingling of sunburn on my forearm, but I resisted the urge to scratch.
I bit my lip and powered on. I could see the school now; its dark roof loomed above the trees and its red brick walls sliced through the green of the woodland like a burn. The setting sun glinted off the window panes like a hundred glaring eyes set into the squat Victorian building. A road stretched out behind it. I regretted not travelling with my bags, but I had wanted to see the surrounding forest before school started.
By the time I got to the school, I would probably look wild. I had been running my hand through my hair every few minutes with nerves, making the sides stick out with sweat. My ankle socks would be positively beige, but my blouse would probably remain tolerably white. The rest of my uniform was navy blue, so it would easily survive the dust. Besides, the housekeeping at the academy was very efficient.
Despite the heat, I was grateful for the silence of the trees. They were so unlike the trees in the city; these were tall and proud, stretching up towards the heavens with outstretched limbs, whereas the inner city trees had wilted, like they regretted ever having set their roots down.
The quiet calmed me, but I felt a rising terror as I approached the school. The Clockford Academy for Young Ladies was old; older than the building it inhabited. The previous building had burnt down in the eighteenth century. It was full of girls who had lived there since they were seven, so friendships would already have been forged and tempered. It felt like an imposition to join for the last two years.
But at the same time, I was excited. My great aunt had gone to school here, and she had passed down stories of her youth to my mother. The grounds were beautiful, the forest was enchanting, and the students were the pinnacle of finesse. She was the reason I had got a place; the school had a legacy system in place.
I had come from the city. My father was a banker and my mother was a writer, so my family never had money troubles. I had gone to inner-city private schools, enduring the painfully long skirts and terrible uniforms with the promise of brilliant grades and recognition by universities. My parents had plans for me, and I refused to leech from them forever.
It was very dark beyond the path, and it would only get darker further in.
My foot caught in a break in the path and I hit the ground hard. My hair fell over my eyes, momentarily blinding me. I pushed it aside frantically, scrambling to my feet and seizing my bag, clutching it close to my chest like a shield. I held my breath.
My shoulders sagged and I relaxed. I was alone, the sun was setting, and the forest was a little bit creepy. There was nothing to be afraid of.
The sun was low enough for me to drop my arm and walk normally. I was nearly at the school; I could almost hear the excited squeals of students in the distance. I smiled and pushed my hair firmly aside. This would be a new start for me; I would no longer be the timid girl who sat at the back of the classroom with her hair over her eyes, flinching at the slightest accidental physical contact. The girl with no friends would disappear on the final few metres, and a new Jane would be born as I ascended the steps into the school.
I laughed, my voice ringing in the silence. I reached into my bag, grasping for my mobile phone. My fingers came away with nothing. I must have dropped it when I tripped.
My left knee was bleeding steadily from three uneven gashes. They didn't hurt; the anxiety, adrenaline and excitement overpowered them. But I didn't really want to catch anything, so I sat by the side of the path in the shade and mopped up the blood with a monogrammed handkerchief. The heat was stifling in the shade, too.
Hands gripped my shoulders and pulled me backwards into the forest. I started to scream, but one of the hands seized my face, pushing my lips shut. When the path was out of sight, it pushed me to the ground and straddled my waist, and I saw my assailant.
I couldn't see if they were male or female, their form silhouetted against the canopy. Their hair was long and straggling, and they were dressed in muddy jeans and an oversized t-shirt. They bore down on me like a starving animal, raspy breathing hot against my face.
Was it a rapist? It was a possibility. Just because it hadn't pulled a knife on me didn't mean it didn't have one. I tried screaming again, but it just pressed its filthy hand into my mouth, choking the sound off.
Using that hand, it pulled my head to the side and paused.
It dove forwards with a bruising force, forcing its mouth to my neck. It bit down viciously, two points digging into my flesh. I whimpered against its hand, kicking upwards, trying to twist my body, anything to get it off me. I stretched its body over mine, pinning me down. I was helpless.
I began to tire. It seemed to sense that, and pulled away. Immediately, my neck, my new blouse and the forest floor started to soak with my blood. So this is how I would die? Pinned to the floor by some psycho less than a mile from my new school.
It prised my jaw open and a warm liquid started to trickle in. I swallowed reflexively. Slowly, my strength started to return, and I had only one animalistic desire: that liquid. I gripped the source and pulled it towards my mouth, letting more and more run into me. It was like nectar, finer than the oldest wine, richer than the darkest chocolate.
It pulled away, and my attacker bit into my neck again, the other side this time, but I was too drunk on whatever it had given me to care. I hated myself for not caring – this guy was drugging me and trying to kill me, and I was just lying back getting drunk?
The liquid was offered again, and I gladly accepted it. The weight left my body, and I gripped the source with my hands. Half-amused, I noted that it was an arm. I was getting drunk on someone's arm! I resisted the urge to giggle.
Then pain gripped my chest, and I forgot all about the liquid. I curled into a foetal position, sobbing as it wracked my body. My limbs burned, my jaw burned, my eyes burned, all simultaneously for what seemed like an eternity.
Then it stopped, and I was alone. The sun was well and truly down, and my book bag had been returned to me. I sat up and stared at my hands. I could see every detail, every crease; I could even spot the flakes of nail polish clinging to the cuticles. The dark was still there, it was just different.
I reached for my neck. It was smooth and soft, flaked with dried blood. How long had I been unconscious? A brief pain wracked my head, and I scrambled for my book bag, digging through the content in surprising clarity for the time of day. Nothing was missing.
I didn't think I had been raped. At least, my clothes and underwear were in place, and I felt physically fine. The possibility dug in at the back of my mind. Whatever they had given me had knocked me out hard, and they could have just re-dressed me and left.
I shook my head. I was sure I'd feel different. Shoving the thought to the back of my mind, I walked back to the path, digging out my compact mirror and stared.
I had barely any reflection. I was visible, but you could see the trees behind me. I dropped my bag and waved my hand in front of the mirror. It was also see-through. Shaking, I analysed my face. From the nose down, I was covered in dried blood. I dropped to the floor, digging out a tissue, trying to wipe it all away. It came off, but I could still feel it ingrained in my skin, and I felt dirty. Was this what he had been feeding me? Was I drunk on blood?
Horrified at the implications, I opened my mouth, and immediately snapped the mirror shut. I didn't want to look. I didn't even want to think about what I saw.
Fangs. My canines were extended; not enough to protrude over my lips, but enough to graze against them when I closed my mouth. Just long enough to be noticeably too long, curving inwards to fit against my lower teeth. Tentatively, I pressed a finger against the tip. When I pulled my finger away, blood welled in a puncture. It was seductive, fascinating watching my own blood rise up and out of my skin, forming a bead of red on my flesh.
I pushed my finger back into my mouth, sucking impulsively. It wasn't like before, but it was good.
I ripped the finger out, snatched up my book bag and jogged towards the school, brushing bits of leaf litter out of my hair. The last thing I wanted was to look like I had been dragged into the woods and attacked by something.
The last thing I wanted was for people to know that I was a vampire.