Chapter 1 - Alone in the Wild
(Dear reader: Please be aware that this is a re-write. Please, also be aware, that if you should find it in your internet travels to read the original, that it has also been very much rewritten. This is a work that took me three years to write originally, beginning some time in 1999. I completed it 2002, when I was the tender age of 14. That's right. What you see in the original is very much the work of a 12 year old. It received many positive reviews despite my inexperience - at everything, I think it's fair to say - and having come back into the FictionPress community first as a beta reader and now again as a writer, I decided this story deserved the English major treatment. That said, I've tried to change as little as possible since, if I may blow my own horn, the story was pretty good. What you have in front of you now is a new first draft, a new version, a third version. It's rested for almost ten years and now I think it's time to fully mature. But view it, nevertheless, as a first draft. Many changes still need to be made. It may be entirely rewritten. But it's too good to sit around doing nothing in the state I left it in. So please, enjoy.)
The body at my feet was lifeless, and no matter how much I wanted it to, no matter how much misplaced, hind-sighted regret seethed under my skin, nothing could bring it back now. The two puncture marks in the neck of the dead man bled away the last few drops of blood that it had, the drops I could not drink away before the heart stopped. It never occurred to me before the kill. Before the kill, I had to. After the kill, I was never so sure.
I hated to be this way. I didn't want to live like this, killing just to survive, being a...a...
"I can't take this anymore..." I breathed quietly, letting the night consume my words. My soft emptiness gave way to misplaced, childlike anger and I kicked the lifeless corpse before me, funneling my rage into the stranger who'd been my meal. I paused, glancing around to see a blessedly empty street. Of course it was empty. I dropped to my knees and gently sobbed. No one would be out here tonight. No one... but me.
I couldn't sleep that day. My box was lonely and cramped, and there was no room to curl up into the humbled position I desired. But I was too afraid to leave it, afraid of the rays of the sun that would burn my skin, scorch my fragile cells when I was exposed to it. So I stayed in the coffin, pulling my knees up and crossing my arms as tightly as I could. The wood around me still smelled of pine, the smell of the forest all around this place, and it made me lonely. I was not at home, here in Wisconsin, with the only man I trusted; I was far from my little town in Ohio. This was where I'd run away to, after all the horrible things I'd done at home. This was where I hid from my past. It was the only place I could think to go. But it never felt like home.
Though I could not sleep, I was tired, and I was hungry, even though I'd just fed a few hours before. I didn't want to think about it, the hunger, the kill, the bloodlust, the passion, the revitalization... oh, it almost felt good, if I didn't have to see the fruits of my labors. It was like most sins in that way, I suppose.
The slam of the front door woke me from a shallow sleep, full of strange, red images and violent sounds. It was five o'clock, I deduced, and that was Tom coming home. I tried to shut my eyes and go back to bed, but Tom lifted the lid of the pine box and beamed a relaxed smile down to my tired body.
"Good morning, Moonshine. It's dark out, time to get up." He thought he was so cute. And sometimes, he was.
"Nnnennnnn..." I mumbled inarticulately, my bad mood bleeding over.
"Did I wake you up?" he frowned at himself. Tom always seemed a little afraid of disturbing me. I couldn't tell if it was politeness or fear, but lately I tended to think the worst.
Instead, I said, "No, I was up, just resting..." A lie, to be sure, but he didn't deserve my frustration. He was a good guy. We'd only dated briefly before I'd been turned. I'd never taken it seriously, not as seriously as he'd hoped, but we lived hundreds of miles apart. When I showed up on his doorstep at four in morning some years ago, sobbing incoherently and pleading with him to understand, took me in, and if he ever doubted I word I said, it never showed. His grey eyes never turned away from mine when I needed him.
"Well, that's good. Hey, I got you something on my way home..." he said as he walked out into the living room. My spirits lifted a little and I sat up in my box, squinting against the light that came in from the open closet door. 'Something' usually meant blood, and that I could deal with. No kill, no lust, just a brief reprieve from the evermore ceaseless hunger. The vampire's take-out. It was about as tasty as it sounded, and half as filling, but right now I'd take anything over another night like last night. He came back just a few moments later with a clear plastic container filled with a congealing crimson substance. It was disgusting to look at, and it certainly wasn't human, which meant I couldn't live off of it forever. But I knew it was sustenance, so I accepted it from him, wrapping one set of skinny fingers around the canister while I used the others to peel back the lid. I brought it to my lips, the scent hitting me just before the liquid entered my system and it made me toss my head back greedily, nearly inhaling the sticky stuff. When I brought my head back down to cease my feeding, more than half the container had been emptied. It was good. Nothing like the thin, pulsing, warm blood from a human, that was the best, but this, brought from the butcher, was good too. And it quieted the gluttonous voice within, for a little while.
"It's alright then?" Tom asked me.
"Always...always..." I muttered, and watched light ripple on the surface of it as I sloshed it around just a little in the plastic.
Tom wasn't able to understand. He didn't know the delight that came from drinking the one thing that could sustain me, no. He couldn't. It wasn't just the satisfaction of being full, it was something more. Something primal. I'd let him drink blood, once, but he'd tried to do it as I had, taking large swallows of it, and he was sick for hours. Then again, he didn't have to feel the weight on his chest when he tried to sleep, the guilt that lasted and suppressed and stuck like humidity on a hot, still day.
"So, how was last night? You seem awfully hungry." He stood in the doorway between the living room and my little space, eyes intent.
"No, no," I quelled his thought, "last night was good...I, uh...yeah, last night was good."
"What did you..." He pushed. He always pushed. His curiosity, while well-intentioned, was hateful.
"Just... just a man... probably on his way home from work..." I had to stop then. Giving the kill an identity was the most painful thing I could do to myself. I stopped, and I looked away from Tom, showing him that I couldn't say anything more. I pushed out a sigh, my lungs functioning purposelessly, except to give away my emotional state. I didn't need to breathe, but you never lose the little things: sighing, blinking, licking your lips.
"You look tired. I should let you sleep, huh," he said, not asking. He took the tub of blood away from me to put in the fridge, and after placing a kiss gently on my cheek, he left me there, in the dark, closed-in closet, in my stale box, to sleep.
I don't know how much later it was when I rose, but the house was silent, the television was off, and Tom was sound asleep. I frowned. We hardly got to see each other anymore, with Tom working day shift and me, working the ...graveyard. I pursed my lips, sitting up in my box, then clicked my tongue in a sigh. Oh, well. Time to hunt. Refrigerated processed butchers' bi-products may dampen the hunger, but it wasn't enough to keep me going. Even if it wasn't human, I needed something fresh.
I readied myself with my usual gear: black shirt, black pants, and a toasty-warm black coat. It wasn't to suit my dark poetic nature. It was to keep myself from being seen. I was about as immune to the law as I was to sunlight, though so far I'd avoided any suspicions, and part of me wasn't sure how. I didn't forget the gift Tom had given me, a long, silver sword I carried in case wilder prey should cross my path. I had never met another vampire before, and I did not know how they would react to me if I entered their territory. I didn't know if that even mattered. Better to be safe than dead - well, really dead. It had served me well when dealing with larger, quicker prey as well, and I rarely left it behind.
Just then, the shrill ring of the phone screamed through the entire house. I never answered it; almost no one knew I was even here. When I heard it stop mid-ring the second time, I assumed Tom would handle it and I proceeded to the door. The late hour didn't phase me; Tom had friends. Tom had family. Soon, though, I heard him behind me, and I turned around to look him in the eyes as he stood just feet away. He had the cordless in his left hand, an empty in his right, and on his face was a dark sincerity I hardly saw.
"S'your mother," he told me, tightening his grip on the receiver as his throat tightened in turn, "she... uh... she died, tonight."
For a moment, my mind was absolutely blank. My body followed suit, going limp, and I crumpled to the floor, my face finding its way to the upturned palms of my hands. The sheathed sword clanged dully on the hardwood floor.
"Mom..." I sobbed, "Mom, I didn't mean it... God, Mom, I'm so sorry, I love you... Mom, no..." I gasped as though she could hear me, as though this pathetic display could bright her back. This was all my fault. It was no self-ashamed proclamation. It was the truth.
I came in from the kill, wild eyes ablaze and limbs a-tingle. My movements were more like flailing, like dancing than the re-entry to the house I had intended. Back then, the kill was new, the kill was fun, and my limbs, still clinging to life, rejoiced in the fresh blood that coursed through them with no conscience to get in the way. That was, at least, until I caught sight of my mother who was leaning against the dining room table, eyes fixed on me. Her arms were crossed tight over her chest and I could tell by her expression that she was half angry, and half protecting herself from her daughter and her suspicions about that very same child. The look alone stopped me dead in my tracks, and I froze, slumping slowly out of my dance. It could have been funny except for the understanding that passed between the both of us. My mother eyed me up and down, looking at my wild hair, my disheveled dark garments, and my flushed face. Here, her eyes grew wide.
"God above, Opal, where the hell have you been? Don't pretend this is the first time, I'm not as stupid as you think I... Your lip! Is that... are you bleeding?" Her cheeks were as pink as mine had been, but there was no bliss on her face.
"No!" I cried, and I think my voice broke, so I tried again, "No. It's...my lipstick, yeah." What did she think of me? Drugs? Parties? Sex?
"Opal, what do you do at night? Where have you been going? You're not with your friends, I've talked to every one of them this week. You've been out and they haven't seen you!"
"Mom, relax, I was just walking," I bluffed, the lies coming easy with youth. "You know how my insomnia gets sometimes. I just needed to move around." I stuffed my hands in my pockets but kept my eyes fixed on her. It wasn't boldness or bravery; I needed her to believe me.
"Could that be because you spend all day sleeping? What's going on? What's wrong with you, O'?" She was at that parental point between desperate begging and demanding the truth, the point where she needed the knowledge, the truth, to protect her child, but would have preferred a lie if it meant she could be happy. I never wanted her to be anything but happy.
"Nothing, Mom, I swear to God," and I raised my arms in an exaggeratedly surrendering pose.
"Opal..." she looked about to cry, "I read your diary. This was cute when you were twelve, it was cute until you were serious, but this has gone too far. You're NOT a what you're pretending to be, please! There are no such things as vampires! You know that, I know you do. Don't be ridiculous, Opal. You're my daughter, and I'm worried about you." She reached out her hands to me, stepping away from the dining room table as though her proximity would draw some secret from me, or make me see reason.
I was dumbstruck. "Mom, you read...you what? You didn't! That diary, that's mine! MINE!" I screamed. It was all that mattered to me, keeping my secret a secret. Keeping my private life private. And I handled it like an absolute child.
"Listen to me, Opal, we're going to go upstairs, together, okay?" She sounded like she was negotiating a hostage situation, staging an intervention, "and we're going to look in the bathroom mirror, and I won't care how you look, and neither will you, but you're going to look, and see!" I knew what she was thinking. "This is the only way I can think to prove to you that what you're doing at night, it's just not healthy!" She was resorting to popular myth, to the stereotype that vampires have no reflections, but her plan was flawed.
I closed my eyes. She wasn't wrong.
It was just that I didn't have a reflection. I couldn't explain it. I'd tried.
What I did have was an idea. I felt around in my back pocket for the small utility knife I carried, just in case I ever needed to do something important, like trim my nails, or cut a thread off my sweater. They were the only things I'd ever used a knife for in my life. Sure enough, there it was, and I kept my hand there as we walked to the bathroom, so that my mother could see for herself. My short-sightedness didn't extend past my own selfish secrecy. I never considered telling her the truth.
She stared hard into the mirror, her blue eyes, greying hair reflecting back. Her face looked sallow, old. It was the last time I got a good look at her. "No, Opal, that's..." her voice was no more than breath, and I could see her eyes growing wide even though it was she who stood behind me. She was looking through me.
"I'm sorry, Mom," and in an instant I had my knife out and open. Another instant, and the thing was lodged into my mother's left side. Shock, pain, horror, disbelief, all of these things were clear as day on her face. Ironically, they reflected on mine. I hadn't meant to mortally wound her... I'd meant... What? I'd only thought about the knife. I'd never thought about the consequence. My plan unraveled as I yanked out the knife, sealing her fate. I brought my hands to my mouth. The blood blossomed onto her shirt and then began to drizzle down her leg. Then I fled. I could watch no more.
Grabbing only a few simple possessions and my wallet, I left the house as fast as I could, hopping into my poor little compact car and, after jamming the key into the ignition, I forced it to turn over in the cold October night and sped away. I never looked back.
Tom set down the glass and the phone on the floor, kneeling and putting his hand on my shoulder to comfort me. "Opal? You okay?" He pushed my brown hair out of my eyes.
Slowly, I stood. I shook my head and my whole body was trembling. "I... can't believe," I muttered, bloody tears running down my cheeks. My mother had been in a coma since that night. She'd nearly bled out on the floor and she laid there until my sister discovered her the next morning. She had been plagued by infection and never pulled out of it. I never thought that it would come to this. I never thought that she would die. I had been so blind. So stupid.
Tom rose and brought my body close to his, holding me, rubbing my back softly. I could feel his warmth, feel the beating of his heart, and I didn't return the embrace; my arms hung at my sides and I knew nothing except, for the first time, what it was to really lose something. "Mom... Mom..." I mumbled over and over again, feeling cold despite Tom's closeness. Then sickness washed around me, and I pulled away from Tom, spreading my arms wide like an offering.
"Please, kill me." I hung my head and said the words as firmly as I could.
"You heard me. I'm not worth anything but the people I've killed."
"Opal..." his eyes rose from the ground up to mine, "I would never. Never." He reached out, but I smacked his hand away, shouting.
"Why? I don't deserve to live! Please, Tom!" I moaned. "I almost died five years ago," I thrust my sheathed sword at him, "maybe I was supposed to."
"No, Opal, I won't do it. I can't," he refused. He took the sword from me and threw it forcefully to the ground. "You did what you had to do, or at least what you thought you had to do," he struggled with the logic, knowing I'd chosen the worst of my options. Even he couldn't gloss that over. "Look, you didn't die. You lived. Maybe you were meant to. Maybe... for me." He looked ashamed, dusty blond hair covering his face like it was going him a mercy.
I stared. Did he... He actually cared for me, didn't he? He'd told me so, a dozen times, a hundred, told me he loved me, but I'd whisked away his words, I'd gone cold. Now, a heat flooded my stomach.
"Tom," I wiped the hot tears from my skin, ignoring the bloodstains that clung, then pushed myself against him, desperate for his embrace. He looked at me warmly, but distantly. He lifted my chin with his hand and kissed my lips.
I sat up in the dark room, pulling bare arms from around my equally bare waist. I smiled despite my grief. Tom had never been subtle with his affections toward me, but the sicker I felt with myself, the more I physically drew away. I suppose it took tragedy to make me vulnerable. Across the room shone a digital clock, the only light in the dark place. Midnight, it showed. The pit in my stomach was painful, but the hunger was nearly as bad. And I still had time to feed.
There. Movement. My keen eyes adjusted to the night world around me, made darker yet by the thick groupings of swaying trees. Even still, I could see a single leaf flutter before me, and my sharp ears could hear even the tiniest crack of a twig, the rustle of dead grass. I made out the shape of a deer not too far away. It was small, but it would do. The city was too far for me to make it there and back before sunrise, so tonight forest creatures would be my fare.
Almost soundlessly I crept on tiptoe from the tree where I'd stood to just a few feet from the deer. Then I made my break, and so did it. We dashed together through the forest, my mouth becoming wet with saliva as I smelled the blood flowing through the animal, heard its warm heart pulsing, and I unsheathed my sword. Pointing the glinting tip at the fawn, I lept to my right, the sword sliding through the animal's soft, young flesh easily. In an instant, my arms found their way around the neck of the deer, and my mouth was drawn to the throbbing vein in the neck of the small thing. They punctured the skin, finding blood with ease, and I latched on, drawing blood out faster than the deer's small heart could pump it. Soon, the animal was just seconds from death and I pulled away from it, leaving the little fawn dead there on the frozen ground. I removed my sword from its belly, the blade slick with entrails and fur. I crinkled my nose and wiped the blade suitably clean on a patch of dead foliage. Slipping the tool back into its sheath, I returned home.
I turned off the faucet and dried my sword with a towel, then slid it again into its casing. I took it back to my room, laying the blade on top of my dresser where it could typically be found. I stripped off my coat and heavy sweater, unbuckled my belt, and slipped into my coffin, lowering the lid over myself.
It was late, maybe two or three in the morning. I was typing furiously at my computer, working at the homework I should have done at about three o'clock that afternoon. I sucked in a deep, refreshing breath and cracked my knuckles, deciding it was time for a snack. Rising from my chair I sauntered into the kitchen, gravitating toward the snack cabinet and peering inside. There was no chocolate to be had, which would have been my preference, but there were orange cupcakes, the sponge kind with the curl on top. Those things had plenty of sugar that would keep me up all night, and short of fixing a pot of coffee, they would do as well as anything else. Pulling off the wrapper and tossing it in the garbage bin, I took a large bite and a pleasant shiver ran up my spine from the amount of sweetness in the cake. I turned to go back to my work, expecting to see in my path nothing but the dining room I had walked through once already. That wasn't what I saw.
A tall figure, dressed subtle reds and browns, was smiling at me.
"The...hell?" I mumbled, the strangeness of the situation not quite sinking in. I tilted my head to the left, and so did it, as though mocking my confusion. It pressed its finger to its lips. Then it made its move.
The figure flew at me, and I tried to scream, but it was too late. A hand covered my mouth and lips pressed against my neck. A rush of sensation hit me as I felt the teeth scrape tentatively against my flesh, then puncture the thin skin that covered my jugular. It was painful, so painful, as I felt the blood leaving my body and a hollow, cold feeling replacing it. My heart began to pump at an accelerated pace, trying to force the smaller and smaller amount of blood in my veins around my body faster and faster, and I knew I was going to die. I started to kick and flail wildly, and I landed the luckiest shot of my life. My fingernails caught in eyes the eyes of my attacker, digging deep into the soft gelatinous flesh. The teeth yanked themselves awkwardly out of my neck, tearing my skin crookedly, and the assailant fled faster than I could blink.
I laid on the floor, prone for many minutes. The living room swirled about me and I felt drunk, the kind of drunk you get just before your body makes you aware you've had much too much. My heart had transitioned from its wild beat into a slow, lazy rhythm, and without realizing it, I clenched and unclenched my fingers to this same beat. Bah-bum. Bah-bum. My toes joined in, and I didn't feel as weak as I had a few moments before. I reclaimed a standing position and stumbled to the stairway, my head light and thoughtless. It was slow-going, but I made it to the bathroom to examine my injuries, and there was nothing in the mirror. Nothing but the ivy wallpaper on the wall behind me. I wanted to scream, but I couldn't. My breath caught in my throat and I clung to the sink, forcing myself to comprehend, to actualize, what had just happened to me. I tried to breathe, but it felt false, more work than it was worth, and nausea crept into my guts, into my head. My fingers gripped the cold marble of the basin. I threw up in the sink, gasping, gagging, until nothing came up, and then blood came up instead.
This was no dream.
I awoke in a cold sweat, frightened until I recognized the confining pine walls that surrounded me. I sighed. I hated memories.