By Jordana Slayer
He wasn’t sure if he should consider himself lucky or not—certainly, he’d found himself a pastime, an obsession. But whether or not this was a good thing was up in the air. He only knew that he didn’t want this girl out of his sight. Ever. Part of him felt that even if it hadn’t been winter, and the sky had been cloudless, where the summer sun shone in all its glory, he would have braved the day just to have a glimpse of her. This scared him, somewhat. That a human girl could enchant him to the point of suicidal recklessness. There was something to that; something that could potentially have very dire consequences, but he found it easier just to be grateful for the winter sky. He didn’t want to think about anything but watching her.
He smiled slightly and followed her into a large, glass-windowed building. They weren’t the only ones going in, of course—this was the monorail terminal, and the crowd of commuters would provide him good cover. She made her way slowly through the building, walking just fast enough to not disrupt the flow of the people, which made her easy to keep up with. They made their way to the station’s turnstile/tollbooths, and he made a point of getting into a separate line. He wanted to see her face. They passed through the booths at almost the same time, albeit about three or four lines apart. He caught a glimpse of her solemn expression as she adjusted her backpack to a different shoulder and withdrew a thin white transport card from her pocket. Her long obsidian hair fell into her face, and she absently brushed it away, following her card as it was processed through the ticket machine. For a brief moment, her eyes were dark and sorrowful, as though she was observing the fall of civilization in the machine. He stared, so hypnotized by her gaze, that he barely felt a man behind him impatiently shove his back. He blinked, and turned around.
“Hey, buddy,” the man snapped, jabbing a finger at the turnstile. “You’re holding up the line! Quite ogling and go, damn it!”
Had he been in a worse mood, or even just less preoccupied, chances were he would have followed this man home and made him his meal. Very few people got away with speaking to him in such a disrespectful tone. Had there been fewer humans around, he might have engaged the man in a fight in public. But he didn’t want to draw any more attention to himself than he already had—he did not want the girl to know she was being followed. So he merely threw the man a glare that he knew would make him think twice about acting so rudely again and deposited his monorail fee. He slid through the turnstile and jogged ahead just a bit to catch up to her.
They were just in time to catch her train—to his luck, perhaps the most crowded one out of the city. The five o’clock shot to the suburbs was overrun with business men and women just out of work, most on their way back to a nice, warm home and waiting family. His girl looked so out of place there—a young, pale teenager in a blue sweatjacket and green jogging pants, carrying an overloaded orange backpack—in a crowd of slick, black-suited accountants and lawyers. She stood among them as the monorail lurched forward, slowly at first, then steadily gaining speed. No one on the train seemed to be gentlemen enough to make room for her on the benches, so she stood, gazing out over through the windows, at the city that the train snaked it’s way through. Her trademark expression was gone, replaced by a mask devoid of emotions. They were on the train to stay, at least for another half an hour, so as he stared from underneath his jacket hood across the mono-car, he allowed his mind to wander back a week before, when he’d first saw her.
The sky had been the same that day, gloomy and so overcast that not even a single ray of sun broke through the clouds. It was always this way in the winter, and such weather allowed him to leave his home during the day, as he never could, ordinarily. He could look forward to at least another month of this, or so the local weatherman had professed. Another full month of gray skies before the sun broke out of hibernation, perhaps permanently.
He’d taken this into consideration as he’d headed out that day, banking on the weather to clear out the crowds on one of his favorite hunting grounds: the boardwalk. He knew that on days like this, usually, only one ride was open, and few people were interested in riding it. The Ferris wheel towered high over the city and moved slow enough to afford him enough privacy to feed. A few moments at the top, out of site of the worker below, with any mortal foolish enough to ride, would sate his thirst for the day. He could disembark with his slightly woozy passenger and pass it off as motion sickness.
As he’d predicted, the population at the boardwalk was minimal. A few vagrants sought refuge from the cold in the alleys between the closed snack shops, and only one or two other humans strolled down the pier, gazing at the ocean in the distance. There was literally no line for the Ferris wheel, which—also as he’d predicted—was open, as per usual, in the boardwalk’s feeble attempt to net money through the winter.
He noted a younger human woman, perhaps in her mind twenties, striding across the beach underneath him. She automatically became his mark. He jogged to the other side of the pier and dropped the ten feet or so to the sand, landing with a soft thunk. The girl turned swiftly, startled, and he flashed his most dazzling smile. He had been an attractive, fairly charismatic man in life, and death only amplified his charms. A few flattering words and discreet lies about lacking the funds to ride the Ferris wheel had the girl striding up the beach with him, back towards the ramp to the boardwalk. The girl’s self-confidence was minimal—he could sense it. Polite interest and a few good compliments would make her more than willing and eager to follow him. She was fast, easy prey.
She followed him to the Ferris wheel’s gate, despite professing to be afraid of heights. She hesitated at first, as though the charm he’d dealt out in spades was perhaps not enough to rid her of the fear. A flirtatious promise of protection, however, was, and she blushed profusely and paid both their fees to ride. The conductor shot him a knowing glance and smile as he locked them both in the cart. This ride would be a mite slower than usual.
The glass-windowed trolley lurched forward with an abruptness that startled his prey, and she clutched his arm with boldness that only fear could bring. The bitter wind cascading up and down the pier rocked the cart recklessly, bringing the girl closer to him, and they were only halfway to the top before she was curled by his side like a frightened kitten. He stroked her hair and let his comforting presence break her natural human reserves. His aura, like any vampire’s, acted as a natural sedative, psychically working his prey into a complacent state. She would not struggle as he fed from her, nor would she remember the occurrence afterwards. All this girl would know an hour from now was that she’d taken a nice Ferris wheel ride with a handsome stranger, conquered her fear of heights, then wandered home. Not such an unpleasant memory.
Once he felt his prey was relaxed enough not to resist, he moved her head from his shoulder, and leaned her against the side of the cart. He removed the woolen scarf she wore and tossed it to the floor, then brushed her hair from her neck. He tilted her head back, leaned in to bite, and took one last cautionary glance through the window.
That was when he saw her.
Well, it wasn’t so much her that he saw; instead, it was her gaze. She sat in a trolley a few carts down, slowly descending the side, as his own cart approached the top. She sat sideways on one of the benches, gloved hands in her lap, gazing absently out the window to her left. Her wide, clear brown eyes were beautiful, but troubled. Sad. She looked out through the window as though it was the last sight she would ever see. There were no tears, and he could tell, simply by watching her, that she was not bothered by earthly things. No boy trouble, no failing test grade, not even a betrayal by a best friend—for she looked to be the age where those were common problems—would cause someone to look like that. He could not imagine something horrible enough to create such sadness.
Without thinking, his hands left the shoulders of his current prey, and he moved away from her, closer to a different window, where he could see this girl more clearly. She didn’t move, sat still as a statue, which made him wonder, for a second, if perhaps he was dreaming. But no. After a moment, she reached out and pulled one of the trolley’s windows down, an incredibly odd thing to do in this weather. But she did. The wind did not seem as harsh where she sat, as though it yielded for only her, and merely a light breeze coasted into her cart, brushing back her ebony hair from her face. She looked like a goddess.
In his younger years, he’d seen many paintings made to portray Persephone, wife of the Lord of the Underworld, Hades. In almost all of them, she had the same, solemn, otherworldly gaze—but with good reason. She’d been the daughter of harvest goddess Demeter, and had grown up in a world of life—eternal springtime, sunshine, and flowers. She’d been ripped from that life by Hades, who’d fallen in love with her. He came up from beneath the earth and dragged her down to the Underworld with him. She could have escaped, but she made the mistake of eating fruit from one of the dead trees. Because of that, she was forced to spend half the year—the winter part, coincidentally—in the realm of the dead, with her husband, where she served as a guide for lost souls. Because of this, he could understand such sadness being painted into the gaze of a depressed goddess. But what was this girl’s excuse?
In those first few moments, as he watched her from his trolley, everything else in the world ceased to exist. His prey, his hunger, himself. Everything disappeared, except for her. This beautiful teenage girl that could not possibly be of this world.
He’d stared for what seemed like an eternity, watched her as the Ferris wheel made nearly three complete turns. Finally, however, she looked away from the window, and moved out of his site. His temporary paralysis left him, but his desire to watch her did not. He left his prey lying woozy on the bench of the trolley and paid the wheel worker to send her round again. It would give her time to wake up.
He followed the girl then. Trailed her discreetly down the boardwalk. It wasn’t hard. She never looked back, and seemed to become lost in herself. Her expression was not that of indescribable sadness—he knew that if it had been, she’d have stood out from the crowd like a sheep among wolves. Her sad gaze gave her a frailty that she seemed to understand had no place in the world. So she replaced it with a blank mask. Had he not seen her any other way, he might have pegged her for one of his kind; lack of expression was a talent many vampires worked hard to perfect. It made them enigmatic and mysterious, and most importantly, unreadable. And this girl worked her talent well. She was unreadable; her face was like a lake covered with ice: you knew there were things going on under the surface—you just couldn’t see them. Never had a creature, living or dead, fascinated him so.
The monorail screeched to an abrupt stop, and he was pulled back to the present. The crowd began jostling forward, hurried and impatient, as though they were afraid the train would pull away from the platform before they’d gotten a chance to exit. He hung back, knowing his girl would be one of the first off, due to her proximity to the door. He wasn’t afraid of loosing her anymore; not as he’d been that first day. He knew where her home was and what route she used to get there. He could trail her in his sleep.
The exiting mass of humans thinned out easily, and he slid through the door only a moment or two before it closed, and the train skidded away. He loped swiftly to the empty exit stairwell that led back down to the street, preferring to use it over the crowded elevator. It was quite a run for most humans—four flights or so—but it didn’t bother him. He easily jumped to each landing, and he was on the suburb street well before the elevator. It afforded him enough time to scale one of the main street’s buildings and make his way to the mass of flat rooftops that served as his highway. Here he could watch his girl more easily, with less chance of being noticed himself.
Like clockwork, he’d just reached the corner of the building on which the street was best visible when the monorail’s elevator landed, the doors opened and a mass of humans flooded onto the street. With her orange backpack and spring green pants, his girl was easy to locate, and he swiftly jogged along after her.
Her home wasn’t far—just a few quick turns off of the main street found the neighborhood she belonged to. Or, perhaps not belonged to. Simply resided among. There was no way his girl could belong to any sort of group, and she seemed to realize it. He’d seen her interact with many humans as he watched her, and it was clear she had no emotional attachment to any. The humans, on the other hand, seemed to be drawn to her. He’d watched her in school, and almost the moment she stepped foot on the grounds, she was mobbed by others. A clearly well respected group was centered around her, and while she smiled politely and played the part of high-school teen queen, he could see she did not feel it. He read body language well and could sense the emotions of humans as though they wore them on a billboard. She was comfortable with no one, and the kind smile she wore on her pretty face never quite reached her eyes. The odd thing was, the humans seemed to know it, yet they went out of their way to seek her attention; to garner a smile or nod, as though it was a highly coveted prize. Humans were an odd sort—always wanting most what was farthest out of their reach.
The rooftops ended abruptly, as the shopkeeper’s area of town thinned into residential territory. His girl hung a swift right down one of the alleyways and crossed onto a parallel road that began behind one of the stores. It was the cul-de-sac of her own street, which served as a border for the town. Behind the homes on the street was a thick patch of trees, and it was those that he descended into for cover. He lost her here, as he traveled through the backyards and she stayed by the front. He sighed, loping swiftly through the woods to her house and the tree by her window that had become his spy post.
Eight houses down, he found his spy-tree and ascended it swiftly, settling onto a branch nearly two stories above the ground. He was about a hundred yards from her window, but he could see her easily through the thick foliage that gave him cover. He gazed at the familiar sight of her room, the furthest back in the two-story brick house she lived in. Through her gauzy white curtains, he could see her queen-size, headboard-less bed that sat opposite the window, and perhaps the only other piece of furniture in her utilitarian-style quarters, a nearly floor-to-ceiling high set of bookshelves, almost completely filled.
No girlish posters of human celebrities covered the walls, nor could he see a vanity, computer desk or TV stand, as one might usually find in adolescent rooms, even males. Yet she spent every waking moment she did not have to be outside in there, doing little else but reading. She took her dinner, did her homework there, everything. Normally, this would have caused him to loose interest: she led a boring, mundane life, and this was something he avoided. But for her, it merely fascinated him more. Why would a beautiful, popular, perfectly healthy girl spend all her time holed up in a shitty room, reading?
His chain of thoughts were interrupted as the door to her haven swung open, and his girl slipped through it, carrying her bag and a bowl of food. She dropped the bag to the floor and settled onto her bed, legs crossed, with the bowl and a book in her lap. He smiled and settled further into the tree, enjoying watching her.
Other than on the Ferris wheel, this was the only place he ever saw her show any emotion. Here, her mask of iciness slipped, and when she delved into her books, she smiled or laughed or, even on occasion, cried. For this reason, this time, above any other, was his favorite. It warmed him inexplicably to see her smile and laugh and broke his heart when she tears marred her flawless face. She would stay up for hours on end, devouring books as though she’d never seen them before. Each day she returned with more and more, and rarely did she stop for anything other than food or an occasional call from her family. She finished, on average, two books a night, and upon completing her stories, she lay back on her bed, and stared up at the ceiling, every time. It was then that she would smile or laugh for no reason, as though she was watching something no one else could see. Then she would get up, retrieve another book and begin the routine again. And then it was his turn to wonder what exactly went through this beautiful girl’s head in her silence.
As he watched her absently fiddle with her long hair and turn her book’s pages, it occurred to him, not for the first time, that this girl could be one of the humans he’d been warned about, many years ago. In his youth, his sire had spoken to him of vampires falling in love with humans. True love, though, not the superficial attraction that was cause for most of the changes of his kind, himself not excluded. The sort of love that one went through an eternity to find; one that, had they remained human, they would never have experienced. His siress had been afraid of such emotion, though. In the cutthroat world of remorseless vengeance and hatred that his kind lived in, emotions deeper than attraction were dangerous, and attachments deeper than lust deadly. Humans that held that the love of a vampire usually ended up dead because of ancient vendettas they had nothing to do with in the first place. Rarely had he heard of such a story ending well—most seemed to go the way of a Shakespearean play.
But he’d made no enemies in his time, and he could not see where his fascination for this human could go wrong. He had little doubt that what he felt for this girl was love—what else could it be? What else would have him trailing her like a hound dog, ignoring feeding to see her, spending countless hours in a tree just to watch her read? He’d seen this girl’s life, her manner, her way, and he would have gladly stepped into the sun just to see her face. In that moment, doubts he’d been wrestling with the past week left his mind, and he knew that he was in love with her. He also knew that it was time. He needed to make her immortal. He smiled briefly as his girl turned to the last page in a book he’d watched her spend her day reading. She finished, and, as always, set it and her bowl beside her, and lay on her back. With relief, he realized that this would be the last time he’d have to wonder exactly what she was thinking.
Shaila smiled and lay on her back, gazing up at her white ceiling with the satisfied feeling of accomplishment that only came with finishing a good book. In her mind, she recapped what she’d just read, smiling happily when she had trouble holding it back and laughing aloud when she could not. She loved reading more than anything on earth. And she could say that honestly, too, because there was nothing else on earth she loved. Aside from, perhaps, the solitude her room provided. And the Ferris wheel. She closed her eyes and remembered what it felt like to be so high above the world, where literally nothing mattered. She’d never felt so at home in a place that actually existed; a place outside of her mind or books. It was nice to be truly alone after a day at school, in a place where no life seemed to exist. Where she could be empty in peace.
Though she disliked admitting it, school taxed Shai beyond words. It was the most confusing experience she endured daily, a paradox in which she was constantly surrounded by people calling themselves friends, yet she was an outsider. Shai squeezed her eyelids shut tighter and sighed. She wasn’t sure why she felt the way she did—or, rather, why she felt nothing at all. Maybe it was something medical, or a psychological disorder there was a reason for, or maybe she was doing it all to herself but didn’t realize it. At any rate, there was nowhere worse than school to rub her nose in this fact. The one place where she could see, up close and personal, people happy, sad, angry, afraid, or hurt, and wonder just what that was like. It was like seeing something you wanted flaunted in front of you daily, but you weren’t close enough to reach it. And part of you didn’t care.
Which was why she was grateful for the Ferris wheel. At least there she could feel nothing in peace. People were the problem, she figured. If there weren’t any of those around, she wouldn’t have even known she was missing anything. But as caged as she was in school, she was that much the opposite in her room, among her books. The books felt, lived for her—they told her what to see, what to feel, and her mind obeyed. Maybe that’s the problem, she thought with emotionless clarity. Maybe I just need to be told what to feel…
She sighed and sat back up on the bed. Next book, she told herself. Next life. She glanced around her sparse bedroom for a new novel to delve into. There was nothing. Abruptly, she remembered that she hadn’t had time to stop by the library after school. Apparently, it was time for an expedition to the bookstore. She ran her fingers through her hair, hesitated for a few quick moments, then rolled off the bed, uncharacteristically eager to escape her room, despite the fact that she’d just gotten in. Normally, she preferred the isolation that her room provided, to the ceaseless activity of the world outside. It tired her only slightly less than school.
However, of late, whenever she stepped into her room, she was struck with an object clarity that her room had only two exits and a sixth sense that one of them had already been closed off to her. This information prowled back and forth in the back of her mind and caused jitteriness in her that she’d never felt before. It made her muscles tense and her skin prickle on the back of her neck. The feeling was distracting—so much so that when she was not thoroughly engulfed in a book, she had a hard time staying put. The only thing that kept her walled up was the knowledge that the moment she stepped outside her door, she was open to the noise that seemed constant to the downstairs area. Her room was the only space in the house un-intruded by cell phones or fax machines, TVs or computers, and if she was going to be ignored in favor of all these things, she preferred that it be done in silence. But now something—most likely in her own head—was taking her reverie away from her, and she wasn’t sure exactly what to do about it.
Tired and somewhat confused, Shai swiftly slipped on the shoes by the side of her bed and retrieved her wallet from her backpack. She easily slid down the stairs and out the door unnoticed, even when she had to squeeze around her father to retrieve a jacket. But this was the way she’d been raised—nothing new. The day she’d been able to care for herself was the day her mother and father became little more than roommates that paid for her clothes and food.
The night she escaped to was freezing, unsurprisingly. It washed over her as though she’d dived into a frozen pond the moment she swung open the door. It didn’t bother her, though. The past month had been one of the coldest she could remember, and she’d since grown used to it. Slowly, she strode across her porch and onto the walkway, then to the sidewalk that lead into town. There was a bookstore not far from her home, just past the city’s monorail terminal. And because the afternoon commuter rush had already passed, it wouldn’t be busy. She could be there and back within a half an hour.
The walk over wasn’t long or incredibly bothersome—though the rush of hot air that greeted her as she stepped into the local chain bookstore was refreshing. Shai shut the door behind her and slid off her scarf as she wandered onto the floor. She kept half an eye one the new release shelf as she attempted to shed her coat. As she clenched her scarf on one hand and twisted to remove her jacket with the other, she lost her balance and took a quick step back to recover. She wasn’t quick enough, however, and she tumbled backwards, taking a passing employee to the floor with her, whose arms were stuffed to the brim with teetering paperbacks. The two fell, and ended up tangled in a mess of limbs, jackets, and books.
Though unembarrassed by her blunder, Shai did feel somewhat sympathetic to the book shelver she’d fallen in to, and once oriented enough to rise to her feet, she began gathering the novels she’d knocked out of his arms.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, collecting the paperbacks and ignoring the various people that stopped as they passed, offering help. “I didn’t see you.”
The employee, a skinny, scrawny young man, merely glared at her silently, as though she’d fallen into him on purpose. He collected the rest of the books on the floor, then took the ones she’d gotten for him and scurried away, mumbling something about klutzes. Shai absently watched him go then turned to retrieve her coat, which had found its way off her in the fall. It was then, as she ducked to collect it, that she saw him.
It wasn’t really him that she saw first—not his face, anyway. It was a glare that caught her attention—light reflected from something shiny was beamed in her direction, blinding her for a moment. She looked away, focusing on the bookrack behind her to clear the spots. Once they were gone, she turned back, wondering what had done that. And she saw him. A pale, thin face, with a wry expression in clear blue eyes, framed by short, fashionably messy brown hair. Despite her usual stoic, unfocusing gaze, their eyes met, and somewhere inside Shai’s chest, something tingled. Curiosity. She cocked her head to one side and wondered vaguely what was making her rumble like that. Slowly, Shai retrieved her scarf and threw it over her shoulder, then made her way across the store to the section the boy was standing in. It wasn’t out of her way—he actually stood in the genre she preferred.
She made a point of breaking their eye contact as she drew closer and kept her gaze leveled at the floor. It was impossible, however, once she entered the aisle, to keep her eyes on the floor. Cautiously, she lifted them and caught site of the boy. Her gaze rose up his black sneakers, dark blue jeans, then his loose black shirt, and finally, his face, which was tilted downwards, as though he wanted to catch her eyes before they left him completely. As her dark brown eyes met his blue ones, Shai was caught, committed to at least speaking.
“Hey,” he said, tone soft and friendly, as though he was talking to an animal shy around humans. He held her gaze until it lifted up high enough to see him properly, then smiled. “Hi.”
She blinked a few times, uncharacteristically indecisive, then replied, “Ah—hi. Hi.” She quickly glanced away.
He smiled wider and drew a few steps forward. “Looks like you had quite a fall back there,” he commented with a chuckle. “Are you okay?”
She nodded and slowly set her scarf and jacket on the floor next to the bookshelf. “Yes. I’m fine. Thanks for asking.”
He nodded back, and it was silent for a moment, until he offered nervously, “I’m Sayge.” He stuck out his hand for a shake.
She smiled politely. “Shai,” she replied softly, taking his hand. “Shai Vera.” She paused. “I like your name.”
Sayge chuckled again. “It’s actually Terrance Sayge, but…everyone started calling me Terry.” He frowned in distaste, then shrugged. “But I liked yours, actually,” he smiled and gestured at her awkwardly. “Shai. That’s pretty.”
She nodded slowly. “Thank you.”
Another period of silence ensued, and Shai found herself floundering. With nothing left to say, she merely flashed him an apologetic expression. He responded in kind, and there was an unspoken acknowledgement that their conversation was over. Her interest in the boy quickly faded, as it usually seemed to do, and Shai turned her attention to finding new books. She browsed for a while, and Sayge did the same farther down the aisle. Finally, she managed to find at least four books that caught her interest, and with a soft “Goodbye” to Sayge, she paid and left the store.
The air outside was colder than it had been earlier, and as Shai strode down the street, swinging her jacket over her shoulders—this time mindful of the position of others—she realized she’d left her scarf inside. She shrugged the jacket on to her back and pulled her hair out of the collar, then directed her pace back towards the store. Halfway there, the boy, Sayge, burst out of the door. He looked down both sides of the street, and once he caught sight of her, waved his arm.
“Hey!” he called, jogging towards her. “Shai!” She quickened her pace, and the two met on the side of the sidewalk. He huffed a few times, then smiled. “You forgot this,” he informed her, presenting the scarf she’d left inside. She nodded, and took it.
“Thanks,” she replied, twisting the crocheted blue and white wrap around her neck. “I was just going back to get it.”
He nodded. “I saw you leave, then I saw that and figured it was yours. And it’s cold and all.” She nodded back.
They stood in silence for another moment, then Shai offered, “Thank you. Again.” She motioned behind her. “I have to be getting home.” With that, she turned and headed back in the direction she’d come from. Another few moments passed before he called.
“Wait!” She felt a hand on her shoulder, tugging her around gently. Sayge’s hand slid from her shoulder to her wrist, and before she understood what was going on, the young man was pulling her down the street and into one of the many side alleys.
This was odd behavior from anyone, and, though it didn’t alarm her, Shai knew enough to act carefully. “What are you doing?” she inquired, pulling her hand from his grasp. She backed up a few feet, towards the main street.
“Wait,” he said again, and reached for her hand. He caught her wrist, and this time, when she tugged, his grip was iron. “Please wait,” he repeated.
Shai stared levelly, setting her gaze on him. “Let me go,” she stated slowly.
“No, wait,” Sayge insisted again. He pulled her back towards him, with strength she’d not felt before. The dark became thicker as he lead her down the alley, to the back, where the forest lined the area behind the buildings. Shai pulled harder, but the more she struggled, the tighter he held her.
“Let me go,” she insisted, louder this time. “Let me go, now.”
He swung her around, until she faced him. Then he grabbed her other hand with his free one, and squeezed it until she released her bag of books, and was unable to work her fingers. It was then, for the first time in her life, that Shai ever felt fear. Her stomach clenched and her skin crawled, and she felt trapped as an animal in a cage. With more emotion than she’d ever mustered in years, Shai growled, “Let me go! Now! Let me go!”
“No, it’s okay,” Sayge persisted, entwining her fingers with his. “I won’t hurt you. I’m not going to hurt you. I’d never do that.”
Fear and panic flared in Shai’s mind, and she kicked and worked her arms, trying desperately to hit him somehow. But every blow the she landed, even ones in between his legs, seemed to affect him less. No matter how hard she kicked, he showed no sign of pain. With that realization, her detached stoicism was gone, replaced by nothing more than an animal instinct to escape.
He pressed her up against the brick building’s wall, and pinned her arms above her head. “Trust me, Shaila,” he insisted, locking eyes with her. Her own eyes widened with confusion, and as she sputtered, “How do you know my name?” he went on.
“I’m going to help you, Shai,” he explained with a resolve in his voice that startled her. “You shouldn’t be here, you know. With them.” He nodded towards the thinning traffic on the street. “You’re not like them, and we both know it. You belong in a different world. My world. With me.” Then he switched her left hand to his right, and used his free one to tip her chin up and brush her scarf and hair away from her neck. With a soft smile, he caught her gaze, and leaned forward, burying his face in her shoulder. Shai opened her mouth and took in a last breath to scream, when he kissed her gently. Then she felt a brief prick of needle-like pain, and everything was gone. Her arms were no longer pinned above her head, her skin wasn’t cold, her fingers weren’t numb, and she didn’t have a complete stranger closer than even her mother had ever been. She was just…nothing. Removed, without a body, without even a mind. Alone.
Shai faded in and out of consciousness for an amount of time she could not measure. She was floating one minute, nothing in dark, then the black faded to gray, and she could feel her body: cold and injured, with what could only be blood seeping down her neck. Then the world faded back to black.
Finally, after a long stretch in darkness, when the gray world came, it stayed. She was gradually aware of her body, then her head, arms, fingertips, legs, and toes. When she was able to move her torso, she rolled on to her belly, and slithered to her knees. She was icy cold; freezing. Despite the jacket wrapped around her shoulders, and layers of clothes beneath—which were still in place; a fact Shai found relieving, to her surprise—the cold was as intense as if she was standing in the wind naked. The sky above her was dark and black—not a muted gray sunset, as it had been the last time she’d seen it. Obviously, some time had gone by, though how much she didn’t know. She had no watch to check, and she seemed to be on a rooftop of some sort, where no clocks were in sight. She’d been placed in a tight space between a steam vent and a rooftop heater, perhaps in some attempt to keep her warm, though it had failed.
She surveyed the area, to ensure there was no immediate danger, then sat back down to sort herself out. She’d been attacked—and though most rational people would wonder by what, Shai didn’t have to. The wound on her neck was proof enough: she’d been bitten. By a vampire. Despite, or maybe because of the cold, she could feel every inch of her body, and knew she hadn’t been violated in any other way. Just bitten. So now, the question was: exactly what was going to happen next?
The fear began to return to her system, and Shai could only sit for a moment, unsure of what to do. Was she going to die? Turn into a vampire? A zombie? What was going to happen? She blinked a few times, and stared vacantly at the rooftop, mind rushing. She slid her hands into her pocket to keep warm, and then noticed a piece of paper crumbled in her jeans that hadn’t been there before. Alarmed, Shai ripped it out her pocket and flattened it against the ground. In scratchy, hastily written hand was a short note.
Shai, it read, Stay put—I’ll be back soon. BUT if I’m not back before dawn, find shelter somewhere DARK. I love you. –Sayge
She gazed at the note, obviously scrawled quickly, and was again lost. He loved her? He didn’t even know her. How could he love her? She shivered, and squeezed her eyes shut. She didn’t have to wonder about the rest, though. Find dark shelter before sunrise? He’d turned her. Or was in the process. At any rate, he was afraid of the sun and it’s effects. Oh, God, she was a vampire. She was or would be something that lived on blood. What was she going to do? Even more confused and indecisive before, Shai could only sit and stare out over the steam vent, across the roof and at the horizon beyond. Then, something inside her just…chose, and she held the note up to the wind and let it fly. She rolled to her knees and wrapped her scarf, which was tangled around one knee, around her neck, and began looking for a way to get off the roof. She couldn’t stay here—not when he could come back at any time. Vampire or not, she wasn’t going to see him if she could help it.
After a few moments glancing, she saw the black outline of a fire escape ladder against the gray cement siding. Shai sucked in a deep breath, clung to her choice, and stood. And the world rocked. Her eyes widened, and a wave of pure dizziness blasted out of no where, knocking her flat onto her knees. Her vision went wild, and for a moment, the world was black and white, then extreme color, then burst with light and faded, as though a camera flash had gone off. Then the scenes before her eyes were not now, nor things she’d ever seen.
In brief flashes, she could see herself, far away, on the Ferris wheel that had been her haven. Then herself, in her bedroom at home, through the window. Then herself, in the subway to and from school. School. Ferris wheel. Home. Then the bookstore. Then the street; the alley. In each, the feeling was the same—pleasant heat in her chest, like a warm washcloth was wrapped around her heart. Then it changed; she was buried in her own neck, and her vision went a hazy red. A fierce hunger overtook her, and a coppery, syrupy liquid was flowing down her throat. Then the rooftop, pain in her wrist. Then, against the fading sunset horizon, a few rooftops away, three dark figures. A stab of fear, adrenaline. A flash of metal. A vision of herself, tucked away nearly invisible against the heater. Hands scrawling the note. More fear. Then nothing.
The world faded back to the one in which Shai had fallen to her knees, and she could feel the loose gravel against her face. She opened her eyes, and her vision was filled with steam. She rolled onto her back, and gazed up at the obsidian black sky. What was that? Nothing she’d ever seen—she could never have seen herself in the third person like that. No…it was someone else’s vision. Sayge’s probably. Yes; the blood in her throat, the note. She was seeing through Sayge’s eyes—but how?
Now more afraid than anything else, Shai scrambled to her feet and paused for a moment, prepared for another wave of dizzy vision. Nothing. Relieved, she ran clumsily across the rooftop, to the fire escape on the end. She wearily slid over the protective barrier, and fumbled down the ladder, slipping only once.
She dropped to her feet and dashed out of the alleyway it led into; the same one she’d been bitten in. Fearful and unsure of where to go, she ran down the main street and searched frantically for somewhere to hide. For all she knew, he was trailing her now. The first building that looked even remotely busy was the monorail terminal, and Shai slid inside, racing up the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator like everyone else. Upstairs on the platform, she sped into the women’s bathroom, and slammed the main door shut behind her, bolting it tight.
The fluorescent lights flickered, threatening to go out all together, but the periods of light were long enough to see proficiently. She flopped against the wall of the bathroom next to the sink and slid to the floor, breathing hard. She drew her knees to her chest and pondered again what to do. But she came up with no more answers now than she had before. The best she could do was decide to utilize the bathroom’s sinks and wash up.
Wearily, she rose and stumbled to a mirror to examine herself. Despite the strobe light-like effect of the flickering electricity, she could see a pool of drying red blood matting her scarf to her skin. Her run had gotten her circulation going and reopened the bite. Slowly, she peeled the crocheted yarn from the wound and balled it up, tossing it aimlessly behind her. Blood was still seeping from the wound, just a little, but Shai actually found that re-assuring. It meant her heart still beat, pumping blood through her veins; it meant that she was still living. Not dead. Yet.
Carefully, Shai retrieved a paper towel from a dispenser, dipped it in hot water and soap, and began cleaning the neck wound. The blood was mostly dried and peeled off in strips and chunks, like dried nail polish. What wouldn’t come off at first, she scrubbed harder, and after about ten minutes, her neck was relatively clean. She could see the actual puncture site now, two tiny holes, no larger than a pencil tip, about an inch apart, on the side of her neck, below and between her chin and the end of her jaw. The pricks were already scabbing over, and, provided she didn’t move her neck a lot, she figured they would stay that way. Cautiously, she placed a folded-up paper towel square on the wound, to cover it and secured it there with a black choker she found in her jacket pocket.
She glanced up at the mirror to survey herself and realized that her neck wasn’t the only area with traces of dried blood. Around her mouth, on her chin and beneath her nose were thin speckles and lines of crusty, rust-colored blood, like some sort of obscene milk moustache. With tears of horror and fear welling up in her eyes, Shai dipped another sheet of paper towel into the sink and slowly wiped the dried blood away. After one swipe, a glimpse of memory, like the vision she’d had before, flashed before her eyes. Through a hazy screen, she could see and feel an arm against her face and a thin stream of boiling black liquid rolling down her throat. Thick and fragrant, it tasted sweet and spicy, like some sort of exotic tea.
Then she was back in the bathroom. God, it hadn’t been tea. Blood…she’d drunk his blood. Disgusted and nauseated, Shai lunged for the toilet and barely made it in time to vomit. Her stomach heaved as though it was horrified as well and was trying desperately to get the blood out. She vomited there, until nothing was left in her stomach, and only hot water and bile were escaping her mouth. Violently shivering and shaking, Shai wrapped her arms around herself and stumbled back to the sink. She rinsed her mouth three or four times, then finally, exhausted, slid to the cold, tiled floor, and went to sleep.
Rough hands shook her awake this time. She opened her eyes, terrified of finding Sayge’s cold blue ones staring back at her. Instead, she met a pair of brown ones, like her own, framed by chubby, chipmunk-like brown cheeks and a squished nose. They did not look friendly.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, girl?” A female voice demanded, shaking Shai more. She blinked a few times, and sat up, able to see the woman clearly now. She was an African-American lady, overweight and intimidating, with small eyes squished above her cheeks, and stubby black hair. She wore a blue jacket, zipped up, with a red and white patch on the side that read “Gunther Terminal Maintenance”.
Shai shook her head, attempting to clear the fog, and focus on her words. “I’m…” She trailed off, unsure of what to say.
The woman glared impatiently and snapped, “This ain’t no motel, sweetheart. That door’s been locked for three hours, and we’ve got angry people out there. Get on a train or get out.”
Shai stared at her blankly, and replied weakly, “It’s cold.”
The woman shook her head. “Kid like you’s got a home.” She nodded to the black and silver choker around her neck, which apparently looked expensive. “Go there.”
On the verge of tears, but with nothing else to do, Shai rose and left the bathroom, escorted by the Maintenance woman. As they went through the terminal, Shai glanced at the clock. 1 AM. What did she do? She couldn’t go home; what if she turned into a vampire and killed her mother, her father? Relationship or no, she couldn’t kill them, hurt them. She couldn’t hurt anyone. God, what did she do?
Still afraid of being stationary for too long, Shai paid for a train ticket and took it to the city. It was unoccupied, save for an obviously homeless man on the opposite end of the cart. He said nothing, did nothing to her, but Shai couldn’t help jumping every time he cleared his throat or moved. She watched him intently and told herself it was because she wanted to make sure he didn’t hurt her. But in truth, another new, more primal part of her noticed every movement his muscles made, every time his chest contracted in and expanded out. His heartbeat was like a throb in her head, drowning out even her own. She told herself it was her imagination, but she knew better. By the time the train rolled in to the city, Shai was one more throbbing heartbeat away from attacking him.
But she restrained herself, through disgust and self-loathing, long enough for the bum to wander off the train. Fearful of what she’d do if she wandered after him, Shai stayed put and prayed no one would need to go into the suburbs this late at night. No one did. On the ride back, she had the entire car to herself. Just Shai and her rapidly fading heartbeat.
She rode the train uninterrupted for almost two hours. She died in those hours, on her third trip back into the city. She heard her heart stop, felt her body go still. Listened intently as her last breath escaped her body. It was an odd sort of death—something so odd that at first, Shai didn’t know if it was actually her dying. But it was. She knew—intellectually knew; for she’d known, deep down, that she had been dying all along—when she exhaled a last time, and felt no need to inhale. A minute passed; then two; five; ten, and she did not feel the burning inside that told her to suck in the oxygen around her. She was dead. A corpse. A vampire.
The hour after that she spent suppressing the burning hunger that had taken the place of the burn for air. She did not trust herself to leave the isolation of her mono-cart and be in the company of people. But when the car chugged to a halt for the last time, she could procrastinate no longer. According to the overhead speaker that boomed to life every time the monorail stopped at the station, it was three AM, the train’s last run. Quickly, Shai left, afraid that the conductor or maintenance of any sort would come to make sure the carts were empty. She still did not trust herself alone with them. She raced through and out of the station as swiftly as she’d entered and onto the streets. They were dark and, thankfully, empty. There was no one in sight as far as she could see, and Shai found that she could see very well. It was not as dark as it had been when she’d first entered, and something inside told her that this was not due to natural light.
She wandered the streets the longest. God seemed to be on her side, for she ran into no one, human or otherwise. After an hour and a half, two forces were warring for dominance in Shai’s body. Her bloodlust—hunger for human blood—was twice as painful as it had been on the train. Her body was racked with shivers that had nothing to do with the cold, for she could not feel that anymore. Her body was dead; a corpse, and a corpse was always cold. What made her shiver was the pain that burned inside her stomach, heart and throat. Her body screamed to be fed, and her brain screamed for her to ignore her body. But that was not the only thing on her mind.
Since she’d left the monorail, some sort of sixth sense—or, clock, more appropriately—warned her of sunrise. It was like a timer inside, counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds until the sun was due to rise. She had no idea how she knew exactly when the sun would begin to climb into the sky, but she did. And it loomed in her mind, a deadline before which she had to make a decision. With each moment that ticked away, a sense of instinctual panic rose inside. The vampire she’d become was screaming to find shelter, just as it screamed for her to find food. But the timer was louder. Half an hour until five AM. At five thirty-eight, the first rays of the sun would stroke this side of the earth. She was not sure how long she could remain outside during the day, but something told her it was not long.
She wandered to the edge of town, and another half-hour passed. Five oh-one. Thirty-seven minutes until sunrise. Abandoned apartment buildings were plentiful on this side of town, because it was the more broken-down area. The wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. And the vampire inside was grateful; abandoned houses meant shelter from the sun. Ever the procrastinator, Shai chose the longest street on the block, and the abandoned house at the very end of it. By the time she found her way to its doorsteps, there were only fifteen minutes until dawn. Humans—not people, as she would have thought of them before, but humans—were rising now, lights flickered on in the windows, and alarms went off in the distance. The world was beginning to rouse, oblivious to the girl who’d finished her last night as one of them. She sat down on the steps in the front of the house and pulled her knees to her chin, as she had in the bathroom a few hours ago. The raging bloodlust was gone, like a fire that had run it’s course, and Shai knew that it had given up on finding an external food source. She could feel her body turning on itself, sucking up the little human blood that remained in her system. It should have hurt, she knew, but she was physically numb.
The timer inside had quieted as well, and it seemed the vampire side of her had accepted her decision. As she sat on the pavement, cold as ice beneath her jeans, Shai reflected on her night. She could not live like this; as a vampire, feeding on the life of others. It would drive her insane, because, though she’d shut it out for so, so many years, her sense of guilt and conscience was too strong. Despite how she’d lived, she was not cold enough to exist as a vampire for eternity. There was irony in that, of course, and it didn’t escape Shai’s notice. The girl who couldn’t feel now felt too much to live.
Five thirty-eight. She could feel the sun rising in the atmosphere even before she saw it. She felt the air it displaced as it rose. Felt the wind shift and the world spin. And as the first rays of dazzling white light broke through the black forest beside her, Shai smiled. She’d been cold her entire life, and in death, there’d been nothing but ice and pain. A burst of radiance shattered the blanket gray clouds in the morning sky and fell onto Shai’s arm, burning her skin in layers, until a patch on her wrist was black. As more light broke through the sky, the burn crawled up her arm, and began to envelop her entire body. She smiled again. Now she would finally be warm.
Across town, in a high-rise apartment with tinted, sun-proof windows, Sayge stared out his glass balcony doors at the run down multi-family tract homes that lined the outskirts. His eyes narrowed as the sun broke over the nearby forest and rained its brilliance on the city. In that moment, Sayge felt something deep inside of him die, and he knew. The weatherman had lied.