“I was a newborn vampire, weeping at the beauty of the night.”
― Anne Rice, Interview with a Vampire
Kira was trapped. Sharp pebbles and the grit of dirt crushed against her face, scraping her cheeks. She didn’t dare open her eyes. Her entire body was held immobile by the earth pressing down and panic began to well up in the pit of her stomach. She forced herself to stillness despite the instinctual urge to thrash, which would do no good anyway. Something smooth, cool, and sluggish, slithered up the coil of her ear and burrowed its way into her mousy brown hair. A shudder ran down her spine bringing into awareness the other half of her body. She noticed a jagged rock shoved into her lower back just below her ribcage. She couldn’t breathe, the dusty dry taste of dirt filled her mouth and coated her tongue, but then she reminded herself that she didn’t need the air anymore.
The events leading up to her burial came snapping back, real and terrifying. She’d just locked up the bar and was about to head home for the night. She remembered the popping crunch of the gravel beneath her Doc Martens and the putrid yellow tint the streetlamp cast over the cracked concrete sidewalk. She had been alone and then, just as she was opening the door to her ’91 Mustang, she wasn’t. The greasy pockmarked face of her assailant swelled against the inside of her closed eyelids. His gold hoop earring glinted in the instant before his fangs tore into her neck. His hulking, hairy body pinned her to asphalt and no matter how much she struggled, she was useless against his strength. Her mind had given out on her then.
She woke in the arms of a stranger. Dark tousled hair that jutted out in every direction and lean granite arms, his long black leather trench coat wrapped partway around her as he gave her a choice. She was dying, Drake had said, and there was no salvation for her humanity. She knew the truth of his words by the pain that wracked her, stabbing into her nervous system, scouring brillo-pads through her veins. So she had a choice: to die, having been taken out by the pirate wannabe Raymond and his dye-job compatriot Jennifer, or she could die and rise a vampire, doomed to eternal nighttime. She’d chosen immortality and the chance for vengeance, but first, she’d have to dig herself out of her own grave.
She’d never been one for meditation, but tried to flush her system of the rancid horror that had taken hold. The soil that surrounded her had been recently broken with the digging so it wasn’t as hard-packed as it might have been, and she wiggled her fingers feeling the stones and grit slacken. Coolness sifted between as she created space where seconds ago there was none. Her nails clawed at the earth and her knuckles punched holes as they flexed and relaxed, repeating the motion until her hands had attained a kind of freedom. She continued the motion as she began to work her feet in small almost inconsequential circles. Thank god for her Doc Martens, which, with their chunkiness, made her progress easier than it would have been otherwise. She pushed the loosened soil away from her body. When her hands and feet gained the ability to shift, she began on her knees and elbows. She’d never been more grateful in her life to be too skinny than right then as her bony limbs pushed and prodded, digging tunnels that promised independence from her earthen prison.
Tiny avalanches caved around her from time to time, but she refused the discouragement that threatened. Her hands continued their slanted mission towards her face. She couldn’t stand the feeling of the ants and a myriad of other disgusting, vile, multi-legged creatures that danced over her lips and teeth. She could feel their miniscule feet climbing all over her like a hiker on Mt. Everest. She needed the almost warm night air, the crisp scent, and the brittle, dry grass of early spring. Clutching handfuls of dirt, she uncovered her face, but it was only a brief reprieve before the hole she’d made collapsed again. She wished she could scream, but her mouth was full of gravel and grime and even the smallest movement would choke her. Filthy particles caked her gums and she wasn’t sure how much more she could take before she completely lost her tenuous grip on calm. Clawing upwards, she begged and pleaded for help from whatever god might be listening to this newbie vampire. She wanted out of this situation now.
Would Drake be waiting for her? He’d given her no rules, though, in all fairness, there hadn’t been any time for explanations. She had no idea what to expect and her panic began to build again with her ignorance. Concentrate, she reprimanded her frightened and wandering brain. Dig, push, flex, dig, push, flex, towards the surface, always away from the spiders she could feel inching their creepy way up to her eyelids.
Finally! Her fingertips broke the surface wriggling frantic in the open space. Hers was a shallow grave. Another hand, strong and firm, calloused and work-worn, gripped hers and began to pull her up and out. She used the leverage of her semi-mobile legs to help push her way to the surface. Her nose, then her cheeks, eyes, and mouth, followed by her neck and shoulders and finally the rest of her body was free and she collapsed on the ground, choking out the crud that was layered behind her teeth and on all sides of her tongue. A bottle of tepid water was cracked open and held out to her. She took a mouthful and rinsed away the muddy remains. Swishing the liquid a second and third time, purging the miniscule bits that remained caught in the crevices. Cracked and brittle lips yearned for chapstick. Her skin itched with the filth that had encased her for the three days she lay dead and buried. Pouring the remaining water into her free hand, she scrubbed her face as clean as she could.
When she could finally see again, she stared up at the night sky. It was overwhelming. Living in the city, she rarely saw more stars than she could count on one hand, but now she could see the whole of the Milky Way framed between the overhanging arms of the tree. She could see the shades of blue, red, white, and even gold of ancient stars light-years away. She focused her eyes closer and studied the etched bark of the branches, the rivers of wrinkles carved deep into its skin. For that matter, laying on her back she could see the still hidden buds not yet free of their winter sleep stretching into consciousness several feet above her. She could see the nascent spring and the circle of energy breathing up from the land. Her palms stroked the sharpened swords of the grass and her hand tingled in response. Her eyes flitted across the insane definition of the shadowed surfaces. She caressed the nighttime with her gaze. It was as if she had gone from adjusting rabbit ears on the top of a 1970’s television to big screen high def overnight. She blinked rapidly thinking that the static would return.
Drake sat back, his long legs stretched out before him, his arms behind propping up his body. “There are some benefits to immortality to offset what you’ve given up.”
She realized that she hadn’t even acknowledged him as she gazed around her newfound world. She shook her head to clear the tremendous detail that had overtaken the senses.
“Drawbacks. Oh yeah, I had forgotten all about them in my awe. So, is it pretty much as the books all say? No sunlight, garlic, reflection, wooden stakes, and sleeping in a coffin? Or do I sparkle? Oh dear Lord, please tell me I’m not going to sparkle. I really will regret this decision then.”
He barked out a rich deep laugh that ricocheted through her. “Yes. No. No. Yes. No. And no, you absolutely will not sparkle.”
His rapid-fire answers had confused her as much as the desire to swim in the rumbles of his laughter. “Huh?” She asked trying to focus on the topic at hand. She really needed to know the rules if she didn’t want to burst into a bright ball of flame, even if she was pretty sure the flame would be all brilliant shards of color.
The serious brooding look returned to his face. “Yes, sunlight and wooden stakes will kill you. No garlic and the absence of a reflection are a myth. And no, you will not have to sleep in a coffin, unless you enjoy that kind of thing.” He cocked an eyebrow in her direction and her responding shudder was visible.
“No, I’m quite fond of my pillow-top mattress thank you very much,” she replied, brushing crumbles of leftover grave dirt from her ruined blue jeans and bloody stained black and white baseball tee.
His dark brown eyebrows scrunched together and she could see each individual hair as it battled for the remaining space. “You’ll have to stay with me while we acclimate you to your new existence. Speaking of which, we will need to begin training since you will begin to feel the affects of the change soon.”
“Affects? You mean stuff besides my new improved super-sight?” She asked, trepidation stuttering into existence, and she began to notice what felt like razor blades ripping apart her insides.
He studied her reaction. “I can tell by your expression that the bloodlust has begun to surface. You need to feed.”
She stood up at the speed of light, or so it seemed to her, zipped across to the slight dip in the center of the open field, and froze staring upwards at the full moon and the man that examined her in response. The eternal sadness in his eyes took pity on her confusion. She hadn’t considered the whole drinking blood portion of her new existence despite the aching void rumbling around in her stomach. Though she wanted revenge on the man who was responsible for her death and subsequent rebirth, she had no desire to kill anyone else. Lost in thought, Kira didn’t notice when Drake joined her.
An unsettled look flickered through his eyes. “I know this must be hard to understand, but you must eat or you will whither to a hollowed out husk unable to die. Starvation is not an option. I will not allow it. I’ve never made another vampire in my very long existence on this Earth and I refuse to go back to that loneliness.”
Her nod was sad and resigned as she stared down at her distressed grey boots scuffling the grass that whispered in return. “I understand. I’ve just never…well I’m a city girl so my food comes packaged in plastic and waiting under fluorescent lights. I don’t know that I can kill someone even if it is the only way.”
His hand cupped her chin and tilted it up to meet his deep grey eyes, which were filled with kind understanding when they gazed into hers. “It’s not the only way. That’s why we’re here on my land with forests that run for miles. You wouldn’t be ready to drink from a human even if it were something you felt drawn to do. Eventually you will need to learn, but for now we will hunt.”
“Hunt what? Um, remember when I called myself a city girl? I wasn’t kidding. I’ve rarely even been in the woods. I’m a bartender and a lover of books. I spend my nights cutting off drunks, not heartbeats.”
He settled one hand against her shoulder. “Don’t worry Kira, trust me. That part of your vampire nature is instinctual.” He raised his other hand and turned her so that she was facing away from him and into the tree line that defined the edge of the field from the woods. “Close your eyes and listen. Your senses have all been heightened to suit the predator you’ve become. You’ll be able hear and feel life at a distance and it will improve as you hone your abilities. Now, empty yourself of your fear, confusion, of anything that is distracting you right now.” He drew his palms down her back soothing her rattled nerves and gnawing hunger.
They began to walk toward the forest, Drake continuing his lesson of energy and interconnectedness. It was the same as the single tree and its unborn buds. He told her to concentrate and listen past the murmuring wind, forgetting the brilliant beams of moonlight that were now as bright to her as the sun. Forgetting the crackle of the grass and tiny twigs they walked on, she thought she could sense something. A rapid staccato thumping hidden maybe ten feet to the left and in front of her, and she described it to him.
He clarified what she heard. “A mole, tiny and not big enough to suffice for your meal. Focus on the differences.” She did. Some were fast like a syncopated snare drum, some larger and louder, the beating of a bass drum. She could hear scurrying in the underbrush, the whisper of a squirrel as it flew along the branches above them, and in the distance the slow meandering of something larger with its timpani booming, an orchestra of life hidden further beyond where they stood. Opening her eyes, she looked at Drake.
“It’s like I can the living breathing heartbeat of the forest itself,” she said in amazement.
A faint smile crossed his lips. “Not like, is. Can you tell the differences between the small animals and the much larger ones?”
“Yes, I think so. It’s like a drum line. Some have the rat-a-tat-tat of a snare drum and some a deeper, slower thumping.”
As they had been talking the forest fell silent and still in the presence of the two predators. “Good. Now, lesson number two. We are stronger, faster, and deadlier. We are harder to hurt and heal easier and much more quickly. You are now at the top of the food chain.”
“But I was already at the top, I thought.”
He chuckled. “No, there are many animals that could take you out easily given the chance, though, yes, humanity in general is the apex. Do you think that if you were to come across a grizzly bear while you were human, weaponless, and alone that you would stand any kind of chance?”
“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” She quipped back to him. “I see what you’re saying. Now what?” She could feel the growling, growing emptiness in her stomach.
“Now, we choose our prey and bring it down.”
Huh. If anyone had told her even a week ago that she would be standing filthy in a forest outside of the city, getting ready to stalk her dinner, she would have laughed heartily in their face. But in the surrounding silence, and in her new incarnation, nothing made more sense. Her conscious mind wanted to rebel, but her subconscious wanted her to get on with it.
“Are you ready?” She nodded her acquiescence. He closed his eyes, sensing the forest around them. When he seemed to settle something inside him, he opened them again. “Follow me and focus on being as silent as possible.”
With that command, he sprinted into a sotto voce motion. She shook off her momentary surprise and trailed just behind him, more eager than she would have guessed she would be. At first her feet sounded like a herd of elephants, but she concentrated on making them as light as the man in front of her. Soon she found her rhythm, soaring quiet over the shattered trunks of fallen trees, bending graceful under gnarled low-hanging branches, jogging to the left around mottled grey boulders and zipping to the right past thick stands of clumped trees growing straight and tall in the secluded forest. She was shocked to find that her clumsiness was gone. She and Drake made no sound as they stalked the life force they needed for survival and that’s exactly what it was for her now: survival. Leftover fragile leaves from last year’s fall spiraled away from them as they chased the pulsing heartbeat she could hear now in front of her, fleeing from its pursuers.
Drake slowed and came to a stop and she did the same. In the quiet, she could hear the huffing breath of something large directly in front of them. He crouched down behind a broken horizontal tree trunk, covered in dull green moss and flat grey mushrooms. His heated gaze caught hers and he pointed out the large buck that stood stock-still, and yet ready to move, a half a mile or so away. It looked skittish around at its surroundings, but they were hidden.
Can you hear me? He asked her telepathically.
Whoa! Holy shit! She thought back at him.
A crooked smile broke his stoic features. Lesson number three Kira, you and I are connected as well. Now, I want you to sneak up on the buck and bring him down.
How the hell am I supposed to do that? She asked, gesturing to her small five foot three, one hundred and ten pound frame. He must weigh twice what I do.
Stronger. Faster. Top of the food chain. He raised that eyebrow of his again at her and indicated with a waving hand that she should get on with it.
She studied the beast in front of her, doubtful, but determined. Staying low to the ground, she crept silent towards the proud buck that had settled down thinking itself safe. Its heartbeat had slowed from their harried pursuit of it, but its breath still came quickly. She rushed from tree to tree, using her small, thin body to her advantage. Little antlers grew from its forehead and their size surprised her in relation to the large buck until she remembered that male deer shed them each year. She was briefly surprised that she remembered that nugget of information from school until she refocused her mind on the task. Something surged in her veins and she realized it must be her newly acquired bloodlust. Drake wasn’t kidding when he told her about her instincts. She wanted to defeat the deer, which was totally weird for her. She scanned the area and decided to shimmy up the tree closest to her, using her vampire skills to climb it with ease, bits of bark clinging to her torn jeans.
She made her way from branch to branch, quiet and stealthy, before she found herself perched above the magnificent animal. Studying the beautiful varying shades of brown beneath her, she hesitated, her humanity resurfacing. The animal was incredible and she was reluctant, but it was only for an instant before her bloodlust demanded she pounce. She dropped down onto his back, her hands grabbing onto the stubs of antler, and wrestled with the beast. It struggled against her, but Drake was right, she was much stronger now. Her thighs pressed into the sides of its ribcage, cutting off any deeper breath and disallowing movement. Forcing it to the uneven ground covered in dead leaves and stones that dug into her knees, and a feeling very much like pride sang through her at its capitulation of her victory.
Mine came her unbidden thought and she felt the sharp points of fang bite down into her lips. Drake sauntered over once she had subdued the animal, watching her with his own pride evident in his eyes and the feeling he allowed her to share through their vampire bond.
“Can you sense the pulse?” Drake asked, his tone clinical. She bobbed her head unable to form words. “Then you know what to do.”
She did? Yes, she did she realized and lowered her mouth to the soft fur of its neck seeking out the thrum of its thundering heartbeat. Her fangs slid in easily as she took the metallic ambrosia into her own body, thankful to the animal for sustaining her life. Her gaze flickered up to meet Drake’s and his smile of approval confirmed that she had done well.
He surprised her then by asking, “Do you want to kill it? It is understandable if you do and you may not have the ability to stop even if you want to.”
No, came her reply, vehement even through their telepathic connection.
His smile beamed even wider. “Then search your body, when you feel that you’ve taken enough, withdraw your fangs, but do so before its pulse becomes erratic and sluggish.”
She concentrated on the animal beneath her and her own body’s response. She felt a sort of electric vibration rippling through her veins. Her lips no longer felt cracked and dry and she shivered with the energy that powered through her limbs. It took every ounce of willpower she had only formerly used when patiently talking drunks down, to remove her mouth from its neck. In the blink of an eye, she was standing next to Drake again.
“You have done really well Kira. How do you feel?”
It took her a moment before she could answer. She had always been smaller and weaker than most everyone and had relied on her wits more than physical strength, but here in the forest, standing over her vanquished prey she knew what it must be like to walk through the world knowing you could protect yourself from anything that came at you.
“Powerful,” she replied, surprising herself. “But also grateful, not to mention kinda like an unlit fuse waiting to explode.”
“That feeling will subside as the blood situates itself inside of you. Never lose the feeling of gratefulness as it is what keeps you closer to human than most of our kind who take without ever realizing the sacrifice of the chosen victim.”
“So, vampires are evil?” She asked not wanting to think that she had turned from a generally kind human into an undead bloodsucking fiend.
“Just like humans, some are good and some are bad. Though I admit that there are more evil vamps than good ones. We are in the minority Kira, but that is a lesson for another day.” He took her smaller hand in his, tracing circles with his thumb around her palm. “Now, would you like to get cleaned up?”
“Oh dear lord, yes, but will the deer be okay?” She asked, glancing back at the subdued animal.
“Yes, he will sleep well tonight and wake in the morning having learned to be a bit more leery.”
“Good,” she replied and smiled the first true smile she had given him since she crawled out of her grave. Silence fell between them, echoing the forest they left behind as they walked back towards civilization.