The war left America breathless and reeling; it was but a lilliputian moment of total darkness, when the concept of humanity was lost on the very species it governed. Death became the new form of living, and all our good, Christian morals were powerless to stop the virus's conquest over humanity. I can recall my part in the affair with little trouble, as it is what birthed my resentment today. It began on a cool, summer evening in 1777.
"Sir, where are you headed?" I asked my superior, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold. Lieutenant Joshua Renke emerged, standing by me, silently awaiting our commander's answer.
"I've got to deliver this fellow to Congress," grunted Benedict, hoisting an unconscious, red-haired boy onto his horse. "He bears intelligence about the British. Colonel Graham, can I trust you to look after the troops in my stead?"
"Yes sir," I responded eagerly. Benedict's horse galloped away, hooves thundering down the path, kicking up a cloud of dirt. Joshua narrowed his eyes.
"He's not bringing the lad to Congress," he stated lowly. "Something's amiss, mark my words, Colonel. He doesn't bring every boy with information to Congress. Too much trouble to go all that way for a boy."
"Silence," I hissed indignantly, "the General has been nothing but loyal to the Continental Army for all the discredit he's received from his peers." We parted in a tense silence, but it was not soon afterwards, with much deliberation, that I decided to humor the good Lieutenant's theory. I was a mere eighteen-year old at the time, my title as Colonel received for both my involvement in the battle of Fort Ticonderoga and my mother's contributions to the Continental Army.
I found Lieutenant Renke's tent, his sleeping form naked under a blanket in the midst of several other men.
"Renke, get up!" I exclaimed. Joshua bolted upright, reddening with frustration. "We're following Benedict. Get dressed." Joshua nodded somberly, scrambling to put on his uniform. I stood outside, watching the fireflies and attempting to ward off the stench of sweat with my hand. When Joshua had left his tent, we hurried to ready our horses for the journey. While Joshua took my horse, I went to loose several bloodhounds. I gave them Benedict's scent, and I muffled their mouths to make sure that they would not give us away. I returned to the stable with the dogs. I sat in my saddle, swatting at the swarm of flies that were irritating my steed. I urged my horse from the stable, and we hastened into the cloak of night, trailing after the dogs.
The wind whipped at my face, though I ignored the stinging sensation it brought to my cheeks. Benedict's scent still was fresh on the wind, and I was grateful for it. The ride was tiring for both Joshua and me, and when Benedict's trail ended at a house in the forest, our sweaty steeds were thankful for the rest. I disembarked from my horse, wiping a sheen of sweat from my forehead, cursing mentally at the sticky feeling the sweat created between my flesh and my uniform.
I took several strides to the door, about to knock when two things stopped me: The first was my fear of being reprimanded by Benedict and stripped of my rank for disobeying orders. The second was the quarrel I heard from within the cabin.
"You're experimenting on innocent civilians!" roared Benedict's voice. "Now tell me why you really need this boy!" I was peering through the window alongside Joshua, and I will never forget what happened next. The little red-haired boy turned and met my eyes with his mature, amused, bright green eyes; his ears were pointed, like an elf's, and a sly smile stretched across his mischievous face. Joshua and I went rigid with fear, ducking under the window's view.
"The boy is needed for the final part of the experiment," drawled a British accent. "We cannot contain the effects of the virus without him."
"I told you he was suspicious," whispered Joshua, inspecting the room before ducking again. "He's betrayed us to them!" I was frozen with shock; the weight of a statement like Joshua's could get people killed, set terrible events into motion. My brain halted all activity as I continued to eavesdrop, my heart hammering in my ears.
"What virus?" snarled Benedict.
"It's our only chance at victory, don't you see? With Wesley, the boy, we can keep the virus from destroying this bloody nation! It'll be a demonstration of power, Mr. Arnold!"
"This is madness!" shouted Benedict. A commotion ensued, and footsteps hurried to the door. Benedict and the child ran to his horse. He spotted our horses, and I squeezed my eyes shut, too terrified of his disapproval to move. "Renke! Get this boy on your horse! Graham, quit dawdling and move! I'll explain when we arrive at camp!" I could tell that this was a matter of utmost severity, and the next thing I knew, Joshua and I were hurrying to get on our horses. We rode our horses at a gallop onto the dirt path, and I heard more horses behind us. My teeth were gritted, and, using the reins, I slapped my steed's neck, energy surging through me.
Gunshots rang out, and an uncontrollable tremor was rattling my body. My muscles were tense, my hands clamping down on the reins, my stomach doing flip-flops. I could see the outline of our camp, lamps dotting the location in the mountains much like the fireflies I had been observing outside Joshua's tent. My horse's muscles were rippling with fervor, and I pitied it for the strain on its tired frame, though that very pity could not even compare to the fear coursing through me.
We were so close to the camp! I could smell the salted pork we had eaten not six hours ago, and I was instilled with hope. We could make it! We could outrun the British! With this sentiment, I urged my steed onward, determination aflame within me. Victory was at hand, if only we could reach out and snatch it. A gunshot rang out, and then I heard a humongous thud, a horse's agonized whinny, and a shout. I turned my head, still riding forward.
Benedict's horse's leg was punctured with a bullet, blood seeping from it. Benedict himself was lying a few feet away, groaning. The bloodhounds scattered into the forest lining the British were gaining on him.
"Renke, get the boy to camp! You're in charge if we don't return!" I hollered. Joshua glanced back at me, teary-eyed. He lingered for a moment, hesitating. "Go!" I shouted again.
"Move or so help me I will shoot myself!" That did it. He nodded tersely, turning and galloping away. I stopped my horse, and I faltered in my resolve. If I stayed, Joshua would escape with the boy and I would be the subject of a lifetime of torture. If I left, maybe all of us except Benedict, the traitor, would escape. My sense of loyalty prevailed, and I forced my horse to gallop forward. I drew my flimsy decorative sword. Six men aimed their guns at me from their horses. I was outnumbered, and I doubted Benedict would be much help. I gulped, evening my breath. I was going to go down fighting. That was the death I had always imagined for someone of my stature, anyway.
I charged forward, releasing a battle cry into the night. Six shots were fired. I refused to allow myself flinch. Of the six, two hit me, one in the arm, the other in the side. My sword arm jerked back at the impact of the bullet. Tears brimmed in my eyes, though for me, a bullet was not the end, nor was it as painful as to a regular man. I continued onward, and, shocked, the men were rendered motionless. Several had the sense to charge forward, but three remained still. With a single, sickening swing, I managed to sever all three heads, my blade cleaving through the resistance of the muscle and bone with a deadly precision.
My stomach lurched at the sight of their corpses, the blood that had spattered onto my uniform and flesh. Three bullets pierced my back, and I cried out in pain, tears flowing freely from my eyes. I bent forward in my saddle, before I toppled to the ground, unconscious from blood loss.
When I awoke, I was in a cellar of some sort, buckled to a table. I looked right, and a throaty scream erupted from me. Innards were splayed across the floor, as were the corpses they had belonged to. The stench had been enough to cause me to vomit, trembling violently and sobbing all at once. My own vomit was sticking to my flesh and uniform as I shrieked, sweat plastering my uniform to my body.
Benedict was with a woman towards the back of the room, and she neared me. He was strapped into a chair, weary, with wisps of hair falling from his normally neat ponytail.
"You're Christopher Graham, aren't you?" she asked me sweetly, running one of her blood-spattered white gloves through my hair.
"Y-y-yes," I stammered through my tears.
"Well, I'm Matilda Blackwell, and here, we are constructing a virus. Do you know what it does?"
"Well, for starters, it changes a human into a mindless killing machine," she told me, putting a new pair of white gloves on, "then the human has no memory of the past…only the instinct to infect and devour." She laid her hands over my upper body.
"M-ma'am, what're you doing?"
"You'll see," she beamed, cutting into my arm with a knife. For a moment, I felt nothing but the slight pinch. Then my insides were all searing, my blood carrying the poisonous liquid through me, burning my bones, my muscles, my internal organs. Foam was curdling in my mouth as I screeched, writhing and thrashing under my restraints. My teeth felt like a hammer was bludgeoning away at them, and the liquid was consuming my insides, burning my voice-box. Now my head was splitting with excruciating agony. I could barely breathe, and my breaths were short and ragged. In seconds, I could not even breathe, and the burning in my lungs only intensified because of the lack of oxygen.
I was suffocating, and my vision blurred and spun about. The liquid now coursing through me was too puissant for me to defeat, and the sacrosanct barrier between myself and the next life was being breached, second by second. I abdicated to the effects of the poison, my eyes slowly closing. Unfortunately for me, however, life burst from me once more, and my eyes opened, my ability to breathe restored. My captor was startled by my resurgence of vitality, gasping.
"You're alive!" she squealed, dancing wildly about me. "Sir! He and Mr. Arnold lived!" I heard footsteps, and that was when I knew that being dead would be far better than what was to come. I was panting for breath, severely exhausted by what had just occurred. My heartbeat resumed, as did my normal state of being. When the man approached me, I recognized him instantly. He was my cousin, Alexander Graham. Shock, betrayal, outrage, and sadness all took hold of me at once at the very sight of him in this wretched cellar.
"So he is," he drawled out, glancing briefly at me. It took me several moments to regain my senses before I blurted out,
"You insolent, war-hungering dogs! This is a disgrace to the British as the humane society they are! What the hell did you do to me, you filthy rats?"
"It's for the greater good, little brother. Don't you understand? England is a great nation worth dying for," said Alexander in a matter-of-fact sort of way, "you could become a necromancer—"
"A necromancer?" I gaped disbelievingly, "that's what you're trying to create here?"
"Yes," replied Matilda evenly, "it's the only way to control those infected with the virus." My eyes wandered over to the countless, mutilated corpses at the end of the room, and I shuddered. They must have been the ones the poison killed. Did it eviscerate them? Was that what almost happened to me? "I gave you an eternal life span, a natural compatibility with darkness, and a weakness of wood, fire, and holy water so we may subdue you if necessary."
"What'd you give the General?" I snarled.
"Wolf hair, saliva, and ground-up claws. I placed a spell on it, too," Matilda explained shortly.
"We want to see how things turn out, is all."
"Matilda, do you think we should begin the second phase?" suggested Roy lowly.
"Tomorrow night we will. The solutions need to settle in their systems first…well, good night, boys," giggled Matilda, following Roy out from the basement. Benedict and I were left in total darkness that night, and it was during that period of time that my longing for death became rather prominent, as my insides all felt slight pangs from the toxin within my bloodstream.
"Colonel, I'm so sorry," moaned Benedict's wearied voice from the darkness.
"If you're sorry," I growled, "then kill me, and yourself. Whatever they've got planned, it won't be pretty, if tonight was an indicator."
"They're going to release infected upon us tomorrow night…" groaned Benedict's voice. "We'll become like them if we're lucky…if we're not, they'll rip us apart and eat us alive." Tears of anguish slipped down my face, and for the second time in my life, I resorted to praying to God, the unseen providence. I prayed that I would die, willed it with all my thought. I prayed that the Continental Army crushed the British in one, sweeping blow after my death. I prayed for my mother, and for Emma, my sickly sister. They were the ones I had gone to war for; so that they could be given the freedoms defined by the Declaration of Independence.
I had not expected to come so far in the army, and I certainly did not expect Alexander's involvement with the British or his blatant disregard for all the things wrong in their rule. He designated me to be lying here in wait for a gruesome torture process, alone with a traitor in the black of a cellar littered with bloodied, gored-out bodies strewn across the dank floor.
I cursed my fate, my luck, and Alexander. I cursed Benedict Arnold, my foolish actions, the boy called Wesley, and the toxin still running its course. I cursed Matilda with a particular pleasure, cursed her deliberate infliction of pain upon me. If I lived through phase two, I would have my vengeance, I swore it. As the hours that seemed like forever passed me by, I managed to build enough, unbridled hatred to recklessly cast my fears to the wind. I would live through the assaults of the infected, and the instant I became their master, I would unleash them upon Alexander and Matilda in a wrathful ambush.
The time came when light streamed down into the cellar, and I heard Matilda's voice call,
"Boys!" I heard the snarls, the screeches, and the cackles of those who would devour me. I stubbornly kept my mouth shut while Benedict released a blood-curdling scream. They trampled over each other down the stairs in the mad dash for food, salivating eagerly. I stared one right in the eye, unblinking. It leapt towards me, wrestling another aside. It pounced onto me, its drool dripping onto my filthy uniform. It shrieked at me, the sound ringing in my ears. Bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump, my heart hammered away.
"GO AHEAD AND DO IT!" I bellowed, challenging the once-human beast. It needed no further encouragement as it pierced my neck with its sharp canines. I was screaming in agony as its claws raked themselves across my exposed flesh and my uniform. It withdrew, shrieking and plunging its teeth into my neck once more. Matilda recalled them soon after, bandaging, but not cleaning Benedict and my wounds.
"Why don't you two come upstairs?" she asked us gently, unstrapping the buckles that had shackled us down for the traumatic experience. Benedict and I followed her, the feeling of contempt we bore for the wretched, grotesque-minded woman shared between us. I found a washroom. I was morbidly curious as to how my physical appearance had changed. Blood was smeared across my face and neck; dried, putrid-scented vomit was splattered across my coat and shirt. I smelled terrible, and I looked the part, too; I knew I needed to be cleansed of this experience, the toll it had taken upon my mentality and physicality.
"Can you draw a bath for me, please?" I asked Matilda dryly.
"No, no…not until tomorrow." When she decided to feed us, we were already on the brink of being faint with hunger. She entered the room, finding the both of us conversing about the war. "Freeze their bodies, chain their souls," she recited. A flash of blue light knocked me to the ground. With a few hand gestures, incantations, and lights, we were glued to the wall, paralyzed. "That's better. Now, here's your food." She opened our mouths, feeding us a measly broth. I was humiliated beyond belief by the manner we were treated; like animals, common rodents in a lab experiment.
By the end of the day, when I was given the opportunity to bathe, I was furious beyond comprehension. I wanted to strangle the life from the wench with my own bare hands. She guarded the door, and I knew that if I pounced, I could easily overpower her and her silly incantations.
That night I lucubrated as further, slighter pain was inflicted upon my innards. Sleep, as I found, was impossible, even though I had been given a room furnished with a bed and fresh clothing. When dawn rose, my entire body was throbbing with a dull pain. When I stood to stare out the window, I shouted in agony, tumbling to the floor. My flesh had been burned. Smoke emanated from the flesh the sunlight had grazed. Frightened, I scrambled to the mirror hanging above the china basin.
Panting, I stared, dumbstruck at my reflection. My once blue eyes were the color of blood. My teeth had morphed into fangs. I fell on my back, hyperventilating.
What had she done to me? More importantly, what had I become? A natural compatibility with darkness…an eternal lifespan…fangs…wood, flame, and holy water as weaknesses—It became very clear to me what I had been forced to become. I gathered my wits, a task which took me an hour or so. I was frightened by the blood that would become my meal. I was frightened of the destruction I could inflict upon my platoon, if ever I returned. My inner turmoil was magnified in indefinite proportions by the presence of the witch outside my door.
She stank of blood, reeked of that which had occurred in the cellar. I was at the end of my wits now; not even my gentlemanly mannerisms ingrained into me by my mother could stop me from what I did next. I tore the door from its hinges, grabbing Matilda by the neck and hurling her to the ground. She was clearly stunned by my display of strength, and I relished in the power I now held over the woman who had cursed me with this. I slammed her into the wall, fangs bared.
I will not describe what occurred next, as it was a vulgar act of hate, to degrade her as she had degraded me. I left her bloodless, mutilated corpse sprawled across the floor for Alexander to discover later. I dressed in a fresh pair of clothes, putting on a pair of gloves and a cloak to ensure that the damage the sun inflicted was minimal. I searched every neighboring room for Benedict until I found him cowering in the study.
"Get up," I snapped, "this is the only chance we'll get."
"You have super-strength and I have a number of new abilities. I think we'll manage." I waited for him to ready himself for the journey, keeping watch for guards outside his door. While he dressed, he nervously spouted horrible predictions about what kinds of torture would be dealt to us for this act of disobedience.
"Shut up," I hissed when I heard approaching footsteps. I entered his room, and we awaited the group's disappearance. Men armed with guns were drawing close, and, in the meantime, Benedict became tranquil, the familiar twinkle of cold rage in his eyes. We waited for their footsteps to fade into a soft staccato before we darted from his room, slinking down the hallway and onto the stairs that we both knew would be our downfall, as they creaked with every movement. My breathing became labored with anxiety as we prepared to rush down the stairs. There was no turning back now. We had to escape or suffer the consequences of my vengeance. We heard their footsteps, and Benedict and I shared a frenzied look.
We sprang forth, exploding with speed and momentum.
"They're on the first floor!" They had heard us, and we did not have much time to find the door. Benedict cried out in frustration in our hurried search.
"I can't find it!" he shouted.
"Try harder!" I yelled, frantic.
"I found it! It's barred shut!" he exclaimed, his voice strained. "It's locked from the outside and the inside!"
"I'll get it!" I roared, shoving him aside and wrenching the iron bar from the hinges, slamming my fist through the wood of the door and finding the doorknob. I twisted it off, withdrawing my burnt fist and kicking the door down. We sprinted out from the house and I blocked my face from the scorching sun. Benedict found my horse, lifting my body onto it. He urged the horse into a canter, and my flesh, although covered, was grilling in the sunlight.
"You're burning!" he realized.
"Keep…riding…" I wheezed. Horses were on our trail, and it felt like a repeat of my capture and the chase preceding it. This time, however, Benedict rode into the cover of the forest. the leaves provided us with the cover we needed. The guards kept following the path, oblivious to our change in course.
"Colonel, my blood might be able to help you withstand the sun," hypothesized Benedict.
"It's worth…trying," I replied, my voice gruff with the lack of moisture in my throat. I bit into his neck, and he winced in pain as I drank. My fangs withdrew from his flesh, and the puncture marks healed almost instantly. His blood, like he had suggested, supplemented me with both a satiated hunger and a temporary immunization to the sun. We continued on, journeying for days until we emerged from the forest. I fed from Benedict in return for the hunting I did, bringing back meat for both of us. I craved human food as I did blood. Though I still harbored a slight resentment for my companion, it waned every moment I spent with him, giving way to the respect I once held for him; his cunning, his raw determination, his adaptability, his stern logic.
We soon developed a variety of jokes; he called me, "Colonel Omnivore," or, "Leech," and I called him, "General Slacker," and, "Wet Dog." We arrived at Chatham, New Jersey, where, because of our statuses in the army, we were nourished and supplied with a room without a cost.
"Graham," Benedict addressed me, "Congress needs to know about that house."
"If you tell them, they'll find out about the witch, Matilda," I pointed out.
"What you did to that woman was despicable but understandable; but that doesn't make it right, Graham. If we tell them, they'll also find out about my involvement with the British. We need to confess."
"They can't kill me," I sneered, "they don't know what will."
"If the charge is execution, then I will take it upon myself to tell them what can."
"You wouldn't dare."
"Colonel Graham," he said seriously, "where is your loyalty to your country?"
"What would my country do to me if they saw me without the magic normalizing my features?" I yelled, "it'd be the bloody Witch Trials all over again!"
"Listen to yourself, Graham! When you joined my platoon, you pledged your utmost loyalty to putting us before you!"
"Us? Us?" I gawked, "you betrayed us to them! Do you honestly think that Congress will even entertain the ravings of a madman?"
"It's up to them to save this nation, Graham! We have to try! We have to stop the virus!"
"You heard Matilda! We need necromancers to stop the virus! We're not necromancers! I'm a…a vampire, and you're a werewolf! What can we do?"
"I haven't transformed! It's uncertain!"
"You can't stand silver, you're getting antsy as the full moon approaches…what do you think happened?"
"I don't know! What I do know is that my three daughters will go to Canada, and you will return to your family! Whether you spread the word about the virus or not depends upon your sense of duty!"
"I don't know whether anything I said to you about my family sank in, but my cousin was running that experiment house! If I go home, I may as well go back to being experimented upon!"
"Go home," he commanded, his voice deadly, "because this may very well be the last few months you have remaining with your family." I glowered viciously at him, furious with his final resolve. When I awoke the next day, I found a jar of Benedict's blood by my bed. He was gone, and it was then that I decided that his advice had some truth to it. I set off on foot, heading to my home in Boston via a horse I had stolen. Though I had stolen it, it was only one transgression committed to my fading conscience.
I felt no guilt about what I had done to Matilda; I had punished her as I would a man who had done the same, but through different means. When I arrived in Boston, I felt like a stranger in my own hometown; I reflected cynically upon how naïvely just I had been when I left Boston. Now I was a soldier wearied from battle, corrupted in unfathomable ways. I had broken my personal code of honor in blind rage, broken my loyalty to the country that would perish in a nightmarish inferno and the screams of the infected.
I chose to lodge at an inn that night, summoning my mother and sister to me with a letter defining the meeting as one of utmost secrecy. When they arrived at the door of my room, I ushered them in, locking the door behind them.
"Eli, what's going on?" inquired my mother, sitting. My sister coughed, blood spurting from her mouth. I watched the blood fall, sad that such a delicacy was wasted.
"I was captured," I said distantly, the coppery scent of the crimson liquid meeting my nostrils, coaxing me towards my sister, Emma, "and Alexander was there with them. They changed me…I wanted to die, it pained me so. The British have created a virus that reduces humans to drooling, bloodthirsty, animals. I was bitten, and I did something rather shameful…and here I am."
I turned, dispelling the charm that displayed me as human when I allowed my fangs to lengthen. My mother gasped in shock, horrified by the changes that had come over me. Emma sprinted toward me, embracing me tightly, her warmth distributing itself throughout my body. I could tell that the simple action of running was taxing to her small frame. I returned the gesture, closing my eyes; I allowed myself a moment of uninterrupted peace, in the arms of the sister I loved so deeply, had protected for as long as I could remember.
My teeth ached as they elongated into fangs, aroused by the bare, unclothed neck Emma provided them with. I was famished beyond compare; I need her blood with a fervent hunger. My stomach growled, voicing its discontent with the lack of blood.
"Eli, what're you doing?" shrieked my mother, standing suddenly, snapping me from my trance. The door collapsed, and my uncle, Alexander, and my aunt strode into the room. I stepped away from my sister, wide-eyed and astonished. I retracted my fangs with haste.
"Because of you, little cousin," Alexander snarled, "the virus escaped a week before its official release date."
"What?" I breathed, face whitening with horror.
"They're heading north, to Vermont. We need to hurry, Eli. Pack your things. You, your sister, and your mother are going south," my father told me sternly.
"I have nothing to pack," I replied sardonically.
"You do at home. Hurry and meet us at the train station. We'll be heading to Virginia," said my mother. Alexander and his family departed, leaving me alone with my mother and Emma. "Try to do what you were going to do before your brother came in, and I will make sure that you are found by the police," my mother threatened me, pulling Emma close. I watched Emma tremble in my mother's arms, and I felt she no longer considered me her son. Rage boiled within me, as did the sense that I had been cheated; the torture and the war I had been exposed to undermined by the very people I had been battling to protect.
"Really?" I shouted. "Who fought in this blasted war, and who stayed home, ignoring every blasted letter I sent? Who was violated by a psycho-bitch, can't go into the sun, and needs to drink blood for sustenance because of it? Who paid for the clothes you're wearing, money gotten for killing other men? You live in a comfortable home because of the number of men I can kill with a single shot! Don't you tell me that you'll set the police on a man who fought for your rights!"
My mother was stunned by my outburst, and Emma was sobbing uncontrollably.
"I'll meet you both at the train station," I said gruffly, leaving the room. I wandered the streets, my stomach howling for blood. My mouth was watering, and when the occasional human passed me, it took a great, concentrated effort not to drain them of blood completely. The hunger, unsatisfied, was wearing away at my resolve. I had not consumed even a drop of blood since Benedict's jar had been emptied four days ago. I sat by the harbor, anguished by the fact that my reflection was blurred in the water, yet another consequence of the change.
A full moon was lighting the sky, and while resisting the urge to feed from another's neck, I contemplated whether Benedict had become a werewolf at all. I wondered whether he had become a necromancer, a successful experiment. Then I started. I had commanded an infected zombie to bite me. Did I hold power over them after all? If I did, I would need to nourish myself with blood to regulate my energy levels and thought processes. Maybe Benedict was right. We owed it to our country.
I awaited the arrival of a human, silent in my crouching stance. I leapt out at him before he had time to react, covering his mouth with my hand and plunging my fangs into his neck. His eyes were wide with terror and pain, mouth crying out, though muffled by my hand. He was struggling against my hold, kicking at me and attempting to launch himself away, though to no avail. I only bit down harder, the feral addiction to blood gripping me tightly, guiding me aggressively into his veins.
Then he went limp, pale with death and lack of blood. I tore my fangs from his neck, exposing what lay under layers of flesh. I dropped him, wiping the blood off my mouth and licking it off my hand and fingers. Liquid, dominating power was surging through me, whispering its will to what was left of my conscience.
I took off into a sprint, running faster than I had ever run. It was an invigorating sensation as the primal thrill of motion guided me home, following Emma's scent there. I entered, rushing to my room and finding a large satchel. I rummaged through my things, packing several pairs of clothes, my first sword, and an assortment of other items, hurrying to reach the train station in time.
When we reached Virginia, I was quick to flee from the vicinity of my family, escaping my mother's scorn. I purchased a cottage hidden amidst the trees, and I lived as a hermit, a recluse, seldom emerging unless I was hungry and to purchase supplies. I stayed in my desolate, lonely cottage, allowing myself a human a week. I paid close attention to the news during my time there.
Benjamin Franklin and a team of witches of the same descent as Matilda created the Thunder Cannon, which shot lightning-based cannonballs at high speeds. The virus took its course in Vermont, infecting over a thousand. The area was quickly sanctioned off by a magic-based gate in an attempt to save America from its course.
Benedict headed to Maine, eager to see the three daughters he had sent to Canada, but there in Maine, he was withheld by the British. He was furious with the British intervention, and, since he was trapped, he could not control himself when the sway of the full moon took hold of him. Maine was overrun with werewolves and witches, and the humans were becoming frantic as they slowly became a minority.
Vampires, a rare side effect of the virus, sprang into being. Necromancers were becoming a commodity, as America and Britain scrambled to find and recruit them. The humans were becoming a minority, battling Britain relentlessly. The country was in chaos, but none of us expected what came next. Bostonians were rebelling violently, and the response of the British was severe.
Witches in their service released the zombies from their cage in Vermont. Necromancers directed the creatures to Boston, and a bloody massacre ensued. Hundreds of citizens were consumed alive or their innards gored out, splayed across the streets. Hundreds more were infected, and only a few dozen humans escaped. Blood was smeared across buildings, and puddles of the stuff pooled in the grimy gaps between the cobblestone.
Even American soldiers were not safe from the bloodshed caused by the virus, several of their camps having been slaughtered completely. Though the Americans continued to fight viciously, the British were slowly cornering them. My life became dull as the years passed me by, as I watched my former regiment fall to the virus. I was disappointed when they did, for I had thought that I had trained them better than to fall in such a humiliating manner. For the first time in years, I felt something: Anger.
I was unprepared for what arrived a day after this reverie of feeling. There was a knock at my door, and I started at the sound of it. Who could be at my door in such a heavy downpour? I was cautious in approaching the door, bewildered by the very notion that I would be expected to entertain company. I suddenly pulled it open, revealing three cloaked strangers, soaked to the bone from the rain.
"State your names and business," I scowled. The leader, who was supporting the weight of a larger man, pulled down his hood. Though several years had passed since I had last seen him, it took me a mere second to remember him. "Lieutenant Joshua Renke," I smiled wryly, "why don't you come in? Must be cold out there."
They entered my humble dwelling, trailing puddles across the floor. I showed them to the parlor, seating them on a sofa. I frankly did not care if my furniture was damaged, for it only provided me with a sense of normality. They lowered their hoods. A boy not older than fourteen and a young man accompanied my former companion in battle.
"Eli," said Joshua urgently, "the war's tide is turning in the favor of the British, as you are aware. We need your leadership once more!"
"I am no longer fit for duty, my old friend," I replied, "have you noticed my face, by any chance?"
"I noticed," responded Joshua blandly, "I always knew you were…different, though not to this extent. You may not have heard, but demons are no rarity here."
"That night, three years ago—you remember it well. The night you saved America but abandoned your superiors to days of hellish torture. What happened to the boy?"
"He stayed with us for three days and we never saw him afterwards. He was a strange one, he was. What happened to you?"
"They injected an excruciating solution into me that burned my entire body…a night later they set infected upon me. The next day I was a demon; a vampire. I would much appreciate it if you'd stop breathing so hard, boy. It's making me hungry." The teenage boy cringed at my indirect threat. "So, Renke, who're your companions?"
"This is my son, Jesse, and this is Nate Caddington, an extremely strong fellow. He was injured by an infected while we were attacking a British camp nearby. Can you extract the venom from his bloodstream?" In response, Nate moaned,
"Please…anything's better than being one of these beasts…"
"Take the child from the room," I drawled, eyes fixed upon Nate's vulnerable form, "he may not be ready to witness something like this."
"Jesse has seen far worse," insisted Joshua, "he's fought and killed infected before."
"This is another level of horror," I warned him, "do you honestly want your son watching this?" Joshua nodded.
"It'll harden his constitutions." I nodded absentmindedly, advancing towards Nate. I was starving, having quelled my appetite up until this moment. I hoisted him to his feet with little effort, and though younger than me, he was much larger. My teeth ached slightly as they elongated into deadly, nacreous fangs. They hovered over the flesh of his neck, hesitating before penetrating the outer flesh and the vein. Nate howled in pain, nearly toppling to the ground, but I held him still. When I had my fill and felt that more would damage his health, I was careful to withdraw my fangs.
He collapsed, panting while stanching the flow of blood with his hand. The bite marks were quick to heal, considerably faster than my third victim in Boston. Then he screeched, writhing in agony on the floor.
The boy, Jesse, was completely unaffected by his companion's agonized shrieks, the foam gathering at his mouth. No, Jesse's expression was blank, lacking the common horror that should have grieved a boy of his age. His eyes were dulled, no sympathy shining in them, no emotion crossing his face. When Nate stilled, gasping for breath, Jesse snapped out of his trance, meeting my eyes. I was very nearly forced to retreat from that single, chilling glance. There was a desire to rip me limb from limb glinting in those blue eyes of his that reminded me of a rabid hound. I stood my ground, unrelenting in the face of a murderous boy.
"Just how many infected has he killed?" I asked Joshua.
"Fifty, maybe sixty, why?"
"He may have some use in the years to come," I smirked. Jesse's lip curled upward slightly.
"What kind of use?" he inquired.
"It'll come to me when I have a cause," I said bemusedly.
"Why don't you have one now?"
"Because I'm tired," I responded thoughtfully, "I'll escort the three of you back to town to keep Nate from going for your necks."
"That's awfully generous of you," remarked Joshua. We began the two-mile walk to the nearest town, time which I used to instruct Nate on the topic of his weaknesses and new strengths. Though he was exhausted from the change, he made a genuine effort to focus on what I was telling him. From the outside of the town, we could hear nothing but the patter of raindrops. We entered, lowering our heads to hide from eyes that would glimpse us.
The place felt eery, and the last time I had visited, three months before, even in the rain, even at night, this quaint little village had been bustling with activity. Now it was seemingly forsaken, houses darkened and boarded over with dampened, rotting planks, rusted nails protruding from them.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the infected came through here," announced Jesse blandly.
"My sentiments exactly," I agreed briskly. My voice created a carom off the walls of the rundown edifices. We halted, an unspoken knowledge shared between us all: Something was lurking within this forsaken town. A scuttling sound upon the rooftop. A rattling of metal. A foot stepping into a puddle. A whoosh of air. Then nothing. I tensed, ready to attack.
A sharp pain erupted in my side, and, shocked, I fell, my vision blackening. I heard a shriek, then a howl before my cheek collided with the stone ground, water splashing up in almost slow motion around me as the impact was made. I stood shakily, snarling. A good chunk of my shirt was gone, and a humongous gash stretched across my upper body. Blood was seeping through my tattered shirts, and I ripped them off, unrolling bandages that I carried in a satchel among other things.
I bandaged my wound in a hurry. I drew my sword in a flash, blocking another unseen attack. My attacker's sword clashed with my own, and I recognized the piercing, animalistic blue eyes immediately.
"Alexander," I seethed.
"Little cousin," he sneered, revealing fangs identical to mine.
"When did you change?" I asked, amused. I pushed at his sword, and he was struggling not to relent.
"Three years ago," he deadpanned, "and I learned a few tricks in the meantime." He retreated, delivering a slash to my leg. I parried in the nick of time, stepping into the motion and kicking him. He landed gracefully, like a lithe cat. "Little brother, you are endangering father's plans."
"How so?" He smirked, a voiceless rejoinder.
"You are shameful to our family, as you do not fight for us…you fight against us. You dared to raise your sword against the King in the war, little cousin." I stared at him incredulously.
"Did I mention that he decreed you an outlaw?"
"Really? Me, the first?" Suddenly, troops had surrounded myself and my companions. We were blindfolded, beaten until our ribs were bruised, and, finally, transported in secret to what was left of Boston.
"This is where infected and changed citizens who endanger a town of humans go," Jesse told me bleakly, "looks like we're being cast in with your lot now, Graham-"
"Don't call me by that surname," I gritted out, "I'd rather you address me with my mother's—McManse." We were unshackled hastily, revealing dark red welts and indentations from the chains. Then they led us roughly to a large structure with a cellar door. They opened the door swiftly, shoving us into the depths of the darkness. We tumbled down a flight of stairs before we found the floor. We were surrounded by total shadow, not a glimpse of light in sight.
I heard a thick, deep growl from the gloom of the cellar. My keen eyes were quick to adjust, and I smiled grimly.
"Hello," greeted the cool voice of a man, "my name is Tom Roberts…I see you brought snacks." He licked his lips hungrily.
"They're not for eating," I snapped, "if I had designated them as such, I would've done it myself."
"I see…Mr. Graham," he replied, "not all of us are as fortunate as you to have humans to feed upon here…we all know of you here…the demon who became the first vampire."
"That's interesting, Tom. I see no end to this place. Where does it lead?"
"The caverns. You wouldn't want to go down there…that's where the dangerous ones are. They'll probably come for your friends tonight." With that, my conversation with Tom ended as I explained our situation to my companions, warning them to stay close to me. A foul stench lingered in the air, bodily waste caking the sides of the cave.
Nate's hunger for blood was beginning to best his better judgement, but I was strong enough to restrain him from the Renke family. However, even I knew that each day I went without blood I gained a disadvantage against Nate's bulk.
That night was the most gruesome, horrific night of my life, which is a heavy statement, considering I had been in the Revolutionary War and turned into a vampire against my will. I witnessed a skilled, powerful vampire emerge from the caverns and rip another vampire to pieces, eating the muscle and organs, savoring the blood that dripped off the meat of his kin. The screams reverberated off the walls of the caverns even as he retreated, and another rose from its depths, finding a werewolf who was fully changed. They battled for hours, roaring and shrieking the entire time until the wolf snapped the dimwitted vampire's neck, eating what remained of him.
As the nights passed, I realized that the predators emerged from their dens systematically, killing off any in sight. Luckily, I had constructed a hiding place for us, a pile of rubble we had to hide under. Every night Jesse and his father could barely breathe, and they grew sick with hunger each day. I considered turning them, but decided against it when Joshua told me that he would rather perish. I feared for the day when our group was the last one left to devour, for I doubted that Nate and I could hold our own against well-fed vampires. That day, much to my growing horror, was approaching rather quickly.
"I need…just one taste," gasped Nate, his voice barely audible.
"Shut up," I mumbled, "we can't…we need them to live…you'll kill them."
"Please, Eli. I need blood."
"No…" I groaned. My thirst was overcoming my reason; what remained of it, anyway. I needed blood, but to get it, I would need to target the predators, therefore stealing their prey, an extremely unwise endeavor. However, the thirst overcame that logic. The next day, I made the proposal to Nate.
"Nate," I said urgently, "we're going to wait for the first one to start feeding before we attack him and drink all his blood. We…we won't eat the body." Nate consented, and that night, we lay in wait for them. My fangs had grown, moist with saliva. My entire body was poised to spring. Then he appeared, salivating like a rabid dog, approaching Tom, who was trembling violently, backing away. The predator's fangs neared Tom's neck, and, like a cat, I sprang forth, tackling the predator. I pinned him, though he was viciously snapping, trying to pierce my neck. I slammed his head on the floor, and Nate and I were quick to bite, gulping down his blood. We tossed his corpse back to whence it had come, helping Tom to his feet.
"Thanks," he grunted. When he was standing, he said, "If I die…my wife will want to die as well. She and my son are down here, Eli. Please take care of my son."
"I'll do my best," I replied gravely, wiping blood from the corner of my mouth.
"Thank you," he sighed. We separated, returning to our hiding spots. Joshua was holding his haggard son to him, and I looked on, wanting nothing more than to alleviate their hunger.
"I can't offer much," I admitted, sitting by them, "but if you drink my blood, you'll be stronger and considerably healthier."
"I don't want your blood," spat Joshua. Unlike his father, Jesse stumbled about, searching blindly for me.
"I'm here," I said, gently patting his shoulder.
"Please," he moaned, "blood…" I bit into my wrist, holding it to his mouth. He drank feverishly until nourished, lying down. My wound healed, and I watched over my group, keeping in mind that there were three predators left to drink from. I had not anticipated the powerful urge to protect them that now governed my instincts, nor had I predicted that I would ever feel so desperate for blood that I would risk everything for one drop.
A shrill scream rebounded off the walls of the cave, and I whirled around. The second predator leapt at Joshua, his fangs tearing through his flesh, hands gripping Joshua's body so hard there was an audible snap. I launched myself at the predator, lunging and pushing him off Joshua. He clawed at my face, successfully drawing blood from it. Roaring, I slammed his head into the ground. He bit at me, tearing at my flesh, stubbornly clamping his fangs down into my shoulder.
A piercing scream was emitted from me before I pushed his chest so hard his ribs all snapped. He then released my shoulder, slashing across my chest. I hollered in pain, and, finally, I managed to slam his head down, breaking the flesh of his neck with my fangs.
Nate was quick to join me, and soon the second predator was dead, stilled in my grip. Now, the common image of a corpse is not nearly accurate. A corpse is clammy and smells terrible, and when their empty eyes stare up at the killer, they themselves want to escape to empty regions where those blank, lifeless eyes may never encounter them again. I myself, to this day, am no exception. I was a vicious, brutal, bloodthirsty animal; I was reduced to this, and I doubted the sunlight would ever warm my cold, forbidden conscience again if I expected to continue living.
I was shaken by the deadly encounter, and Joshua was croaking out his final words to his son and myself.
"Chris…" He hacked out blood, "protect my son…you can teach him…he is strong and quick, and he kills without a qualm…he is useful…Jesse, stay with him," he paused, coughing again, "he understands the movement of this cold world better than it understands…" I was holding onto Joshua, a dire need to keep him alive raging through my body like a wildfire that struck down the bitter logic of the peaceful forest. He spoke once more, one final word escaping his lips:
"Itself." He stared up at the ceiling, eyes rolling back, mouth gaping open. My inner demons and memories shattered the carefully-constructed barrier I had created, and Benedict's screams and the sound of gunshots ricocheted throughout me. My hands fisted the roots of my hair, and the sounds of my past stifled all actual sound. I heard a man's screams reverberating within my mind as a crushing weight formed in my chest. Hot tears blurred my vision, and in that moment I was the most emotionally vulnerable I had ever been before the eyes of another. The scream grew louder as my tears trailed down my face, and the prickling of my throat led me to realize that I was the one screaming.
Here was the end of the man who had been conflicting whether to follow my final order to him or to save me, his loyalty and sense of duty winning out as he left me to face a horrific fate alongside my superior. This man was the beginning and the end of me, one of the most important figures of my past. An essential remainder of my past, one of the last, surviving fragments, was gone. Those who recognized me were dwindling, and soon, I would truly be alone, with no one who remembered me, no one who shared a single memory or experience with me.
I stilled, shivering when I heard the shuffling footsteps of the third predator. From where I sat, crouched, I could smell the crimson delicacy flowing through her. I was ravenous; I need more blood than a feeble human could offer. My mouth was salivating, my stomach hollow, the crave too powerful to control. I glanced over at Jesse, noticing that only three tears had escaped his eyes. He would not just be useful; escaping would be a detrimental effort without him.
I watched the third predator's languid steps as she turned, vanishing from sight when she entered another cavern. I crept forth, fangs sharp and ready to kill. Then a scream broke the silence. I went rigid at the sound, the strong, pungent scent of blood meeting my nostrils. I lost control of the hunger, leaping forward. I moved with inhuman speed, lunging for the third predator. I slammed her into the ground, breaking the skin of her neck with my fangs, drinking. She wrestled me off her, clawing at my chest. I grew my claws, slashing her throat and violently pinning her, growling at her to threaten her.
She bit my neck, and I wrenched her fangs from my neck, shouting in pain. We lunged, snapped at the other's necks, clawed at the other's flesh, howled, snarled, shrieked, and drank what we could of the other's blood. She yelped when I drew blood from her eye, before piercing my abdomen with her claws. She was going to dig for my heart! I pushed her off of me, screeching when her hand was forcibly withdrawn from my stomach. In one, final swoop, I devoured the rest of her blood. I was crazed with hunger, needing blood to heal.
Then I discovered her original prey. There was Tom and his family, cowering under my gaze. Tom was shielding his African wife and his mulatto boy, but I was too famished to care about morality. I drained Tom relatively quickly without a struggle on his part, and then I turned my attention to his trembling, sobbing wife.
"P-please, spare Max!" she wept. I nodded slowly, reason slowly trickling back into me. I grabbed her, biting into her neck, allowing her limp body to fall to the floor of the cave. Satiated, I turned my gaze to the boy, who was crying relentlessly. My promise to Tom and my lack of hunger were all that stopped me from devouring him as well.
"Come on," I grunted, numb from all the horrific battles I had barely won.
"I hate you!" he shouted, "I HATE YOU! DAMN YOU TO HELL!"
"That's not unreasonable. Now get up before I break my promise and kill you." That statement had him stumbling to his feet. I looked him over, unsettled by his lanky, underfed form. He was on the brink of dying of starvation, and he was a mere human. "What's your name?"
"Max Roberts," he seethed, glaring vehemently at me.
"Well, Max Roberts, how would you like to escape?"
"Not with you-"
"You'll find that I'm your only method of escape, Roberts. Would you rather die?"
"No," he sobbed, "I want them back!" One part of me wanted to adhere to his nature-defying request, stricken with guilt; while the more jaded, bloodthirsty side knew that their sacrifices were necessary.
"Join me," I proposed, "I'm one of few who can control the infected…being with me could benefit you greatly. Your parents were two sacrifices needed for a greater cause."
"Leave me alone," he cried exasperatedly, trying to emphasize what he thought I did not seem to grasp, "I loved them. Don't you know what that means?" It took me several moments to reply.
"I used to…before all this I used to," I smiled woefully, "I used to have a family who loved me before I became this…leech. Though they're still alive, I'd rather the King and my cousin dead. They took over, you see. They're why I'm here."
"And you're going to kill them," reveled Max, "are you mad?"
"Far from it. I'm a revolutionary. I'll take care of you from now on—be the parents I took from you." Max looked back at his parents, reduced to tears once more.
"I loved them, loved them, love them!"
"I'll wait for you to finish grieving, then. Vengeance won't work on me, so don't try. I have two others under my protection. I would imagine you wouldn't like to feel accountable for their further discomfort." With those words I left him, returning to Jesse and Nate. By the day's end Max joined us, not speaking a word. What I did not expect was that he would carry on in that grave silence, reticent for the better part of two decades afterward.
I broke down the prison door, a task made possible by the blood I had gorged upon earlier that day. It took a single push and a slight pain in my upper body, and then we walked free.
"What the-" The first guard was bitten by the courtesy of Nate, whose hunger took a feverish hold on him. I killed several without a single gunshot fired by silencing the men with my claws, and Jesse made splendid use of a letter opener. Max hid under a desk, and when we emerged from the hellish place, rain was falling from the dark grey firmament, cleansing us of the blood and grime caked on our skins in stubbornly situated layers.
"We're free," grinned Nate, his voice cracking with emotional strain.
"So we are," sighed Jesse, supported by Nate's bulk as he glanced up at the sky thoughtfully.
"Now I am Elijah McManse, outlaw," I marveled, "and this, friends, begins a new era." Max grimaced, staring down at the mud. I could hear the silent sobs, feel the guilt still ebbing within me, though the freedom outweighed it by far. We were free.