When I came awake, I kept my eyes closed and stayed absolutely still. I didn’t want to feel the coffin around me or see the pitch blackness inside it.
It had to be some awful dream. Vampires aren’t real. I’ve probably just been watching too many scary movies. There’s no way I went out and killed two people last night. I’m going to open my eyes, and I’ll be lying in my own bed, at home.
I opened my eyes.
“Shit,” I muttered, and pulled the handle, unlocking the coffin, and kicked open the lid. I sat up and put my elbows on my knees, head in my hands. Nearby, O’Malley’s coffin lid scraped to the side and she climbed out. I didn’t say anything to her. I had to get it all straight in my head.
Okay, here’s what happened, I told myself. You got too close to Sarah, so Kelly made you crash your bike, then he kicked your ass, gave you a Glasgow smile, cut your throat, and left you to die. But somehow, thanks to O’Malley, you’re alive. You’ve got some nasty scars, but you’re alive. You’re a murderer, but you’re alive. You can never see Sarah or the sun again, but you’re alive.
Well… “alive” in the loosest sense of the word.
You’re a vampire, Grin. That’s it. Now get fucking used to it.
I sighed and lifted my head. O’Malley was sitting on the edge of her coffin, legs crossed, looking down at me, pale lips pouted, brows furrowed.
“Evening,” I said.
“You’re still struggling with it, aye?” she observed.
I hung my head again. “When does it get easy?”
“Could be tomorrow,” she said. “Could be never. It’s different for all of us.”
“Why did you do this to me?” I asked, looking her in the eyes. “What made you think I was ‘vampire’ material?”
“When I saw you, I just knew.”
She stood and started for the closet. “About two weeks ago, I saw you at Cecilia’s.” She disappeared behind the door and, piece by piece, her clothes landed on the floor outside the closet. “Three thoughts crossed my mind. Drinking your blood was only the second. The first was, ‘There’s a man who has what it takes to be a vampire.’ I just… knew.”
“Very flattering, but what if you’re wrong?” I asked, climbing out of the coffin.
“I’m not,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. “Of course you’re not. Women are never wrong.”
“Now you’re catching on,” she laughed as hangers moved around on metal bars.
I leaned against the wall and waited. “So, tell me something else,” I said. “What was the third thing you thought when you saw me?”
“Do you have a fear of heights?”
“No, I’m asking you right now if you have a fear of heights.”
“No, O’Malley, I don’t have a fear of heights,” I muttered. “Do you have a fear of staying on topic?”
“Not at all. But when a conversation goes in a direction I don’t like, I grab the wheel.”
“Well, I’m grabbing it back. What was it?”
“C’mon. Are you really doing that ‘I have a secret and I’m not telling you’ thing?”
“You know, princess, sometimes you’re a real…”
O’Malley emerged from the closet in a black Misfits t-shirt, skeleton hands printed on the front to look like they were cupping her breasts, a short, black, denim skirt, and her curvy, milk-white legs leading down to classic black Converse. I choked on my words.
“A real what?” she asked.
“…Tease,” I finished, letting my eyes make another pass up and down her body.
“Mmhmm… Grin, can you do me a favor?”
“Yes. Please. Anything.”
She strutted by me on her way to the door and closed my jaw. “Get your tongue off my nice clean floor.”
I smiled as she went into the other room, and called, “Sorry, I was distracted. What do you want me to do with my tongue?”
“Are you coming or not?” she replied.
I followed and saw her by the door, putting on her jacket. “I could, but you’ll have to give me a few minutes,” I said. She glared at me, comprehending my innuendo, but I returned it with a grin. Her hard look faded and she laughed melodiously. I liked that laugh. It was cute.
“Put this on, you dirty-minded bastard,” she chuckled, and tossed me my jacket. I shrugged it on and went out the door after her.
O’Malley drove us out of the city, the paved road turning to dirt, and we approached a large area of abandoned farmland. She stopped the car on the road and we climbed out.
“I know this place… I’ve partied out here before,” I said, following her into the fields of tall grass. I recognized the old barn in the distance that was nearing collapse. We passed the stone foundation of what used to be a house—one of my old band’s first stages.
“So have I,” she told me as we walked on. I followed her deeper into the fields of tall grass. In the distance, the city lights cast a yellow glow, but in the country, in this expanse of fields fenced by the woods, the stars were becoming visible in the pink and purple sky.
Suddenly, she stopped and turned to face me. I nearly bumped into her. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Teaching you lesson three.”
She began to circle me, slowly, like a wolf around its prey. The hair on my arms and the back of my neck prickled.
“Close your eyes,” she told me, her voice taking on a seductive, hypnotic sound.
I felt I had no choice. I did as she said.
“I’m about to teach you how to transform. Listen closely to what I say. Follow my instructions exactly.”
She was silent for a moment. Just the sound of her footsteps in the grass.
“Are you ready?” she asked finally.
“You need to be aware of your body,” she told me, continuing to circle me. “Start at the top of your head and work your way down, until you can feel every inch of it, all at once.”
I focused on the slight breeze moving my hair and blowing on my face, the way my clothes fell against my skin, the slow and almost imperceptible pulse of my heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries. Goosebumps appeared and felt like a million tiny pinpricks. Soon, I could feel the movement of every single strand of hair on my head, the differing textures between each thread that composed my clothing, the shape and weight of each dead, decommissioned organ in my abdominal cavity. I could’ve felt my fingernails growing, if they had still been capable of it.
“Now, feel your body changing. Pulling apart, from the center outward.”
I was trembling, overwhelmed by the hypersensitivity, but I did as she asked. As I tried to imagine myself breaking apart, a fluttering started in my stomach, but it wasn’t butterflies. These wings were strong and frantic.
“I’m gonna be sick,” I panted.
“No, you’re not. Focus. You’re almost there. Make that feeling spread. Up through your chest. Down your arms. Down your legs. From head to toe.”
I groaned and fell to my knees, doubled over with my arms tight around my stomach. I couldn’t stop shaking and the sensation of those rapid phantom wings was traveling through me just as she described.
“I can’t…” I forced out. “O’Malley… Make it stop…”
“Pay attention!” she demanded over the shrill, shrieking cries that began to fill my head. “You mustn’t try to keep it together. You have to let go.”
I heard what she was saying, but it was horrifying, the feeling of my body trying to break itself into pieces. How could I possibly survive that?
“Grin…” she whispered in my ear. “Let go.”
She kept repeating that to me, and I focused on the sound of her voice. I let it soothe me, hypnotize me, break me down, until I lost the strength to resist. I surrendered to whatever force was trying to tear me apart and felt my body explode into pieces. And suddenly, I was flying.
I don’t even know how to describe what I saw, or how I saw it. My consciousness was extended over this colony of bats that fluttered into the sky. What each pair of tiny, glowing, green eyes saw, I also saw. My field of vision was unlimited. I soared over the field, the barn, the woods, listening to the dozens of leathery wings flapping around me.
I looked down and saw O’Malley. She waved me toward her. I willed myself in her direction, and soon found myself hovering above her.
“Now, do it again!” she called up to me. “Backwards this time!”
Each beady eye closed, and with the same insidiously creeping awareness, I could feel every separate piece of myself at once—each wing, each claw, each tuft of fur. It’s hard to explain, but imagine if you could remove a hand, but you could still control it and feel it as if it was still attached to you. The bats were like free-roaming appendages acting under my will. Even though I was somehow present in every one of them, it seemed like my actual consciousness or soul or whatever was focused somewhere in the middle. So, much like pulling in your arms and legs to curl up into a ball, I began to pull in the bats. They came closer and closer, merged into each other, and I felt my body sticking back together, piece by piece, like a three-dimensional puzzle of flesh and bone.
I fell a few feet through the air and landed on my ass, next to O’Malley. She looked down at me and laughed. “Not bad for a first try,” she said, sitting down beside me. “How was it?”
“Terrifying and weird… then amazing,” I answered, and stared at the sky, dazed.
“It’ll get easier with practice,” she assured me. “Eventually, it’ll be like those cigarettes of yours—you won’t even have to think about it.”
I laughed a little, which helped to shake me out of the shock, and looked over at her. “How did you do that?”
“I dunno… Get into my head? Whatever that was. When you were talking me through that.”
“Have you seen The
I rolled my eyes. There was no getting this girl to talk about something she didn’t want to talk about. “Of course I have,” I said.
“Remember that part with the Chinese food? Where David is making Michael see rice as maggots, noodles as worms, y’know?”
“Yeah?” I asked excitedly. “You mean we can do that?”
She shrugged. “Kinda. When you make extended eye contact with a mortal, they become very open to suggestion. I’ll teach you that later.”
That didn’t really answer my question, but it was still pretty cool. I grinned, finally taking out my cigarettes. She gave them a sidelong glance. “Want one?” I asked.
After a moment, she nodded, and I took one out and handed it to her. She put it in her mouth and I lit it, then lit mine. I watched her sip the smoke like expensive wine, then she let it escape her lips, inhaling it up through her nose, and blowing it out her mouth again. I smiled to myself. “You do smoke,” I said.
She shrugged. “I’ve been around for about a century and a half. I’ve probably done everything at least once.”
I laughed, thinking of a million ways I could take that statement.
“Really? Nothing to say? I practically handed you that one.”
“It was too obvious. I pick my battles carefully,” I said, and took a long drag. I exhaled and asked, “You say you’ve gone to parties out here?”
“Yes, but probably not the kind of parties you’ve been to,” she explained. “Sometimes the vampires come out here. It’s far enough from the city and from anyone else. We’re free to be ourselves.”
I pondered her words, blowing cool menthol smoke out my nose. The vastness of this vampire underworld was becoming apparent to me. I remembered what she’d said before, about how every major city had at least one vampire haven. I remembered the things she’d said about donors. I remembered how she said she made her money, through untraceable contract killings. And I remembered the bodies found drained of blood, but with no wounds, as if the blood had suddenly evaporated in the victims’ veins. This was a world that had existed alongside mine—alongside yours—for hundreds of years, yet still managed to hide itself in the realm of folklore. How had I never noticed it? How many vampires had I met in Arlington, without ever knowing what they were? How many times had I narrowly escaped death?
If I had still been mortal, it would’ve been a terrifying thought. But now, it only made me grin.
“All those people…” I sighed, gazing at the city far off in the distance. “We’re right here, and they have no idea.”
“It’s got to stay that way,” she reminded me. “There are many more of them than there are of us. And I know that, in this scientific age, no one believes in monsters anymore… But if something were to happen that would restore their faith, and if they were to band together against us, we wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“Could that happen?” I asked.
“I doubt it,” she said. “These days, people are so… logical.” She chuckled a bit at the word. “They can find a reasonable explanation for everything. We would have to do something massive if we wanted to get their attention.”
“Like what?” I wondered.
She laughed. “Well, now that I think about it, leaving a bunch of bloodless corpses scattered around a large American city should’ve done the trick…”
I laughed too and lay back in the grass, looking at the emerging stars. I closed my eyes, and for a moment, I could see the trees towering over me as I lay in a puddle of my own blood, beaten and disfigured. I wondered if Mark had given Sarah my message, and if Kelly and his buddies had been caught. I doubted the latter part. There was no way Kelly would give himself up as a murderer, and no way Allan or Brad would turn him in. Mark could say something, but I hoped he wouldn’t. If they were arrested, I wouldn’t be able to exact my hellish vengeance.
O’Malley must’ve noticed me smirking to myself as I thought of how I would make them suffer, because she asked, “What are you thinking about?”
“Oh… Nothing,” I said, opening my eyes. “Just revenge.”
She breathed a small laugh. “Just revenge?”
I shrugged and put my hands behind my head.
“Grin, revenge is actually a much bigger deal than you seem to think.”
“Is that why you get paid five digits for it?” I asked.
A stunned expression passed over her face and she cursed. She jumped to her feet and reached into her jacket, taking out a small, nondescript flip phone. She glanced at the screen and put it back into her pocket. “We need to go,” she said. “Come on, back in the car.”
“What’s going on?”
“I’m late for work.”
I rolled my eyes and went after her.
“I’ll be back later,” O’Malley said, leaning over the front seat as I climbed out. “I have some business to take care of.”
“You’re gonna kill somebody?” I asked. “Can I come?”
“I’m just going to get some information from a client,” she told me. “Close the door.”
I sighed and closed it. She peeled away and I walked up to Mathis. He stood in his usual place, in front of the back door of Cecilia’s, massive arms crossed. As I approached, he opened the door, greeting, “Welcome back, Grin.”
“Thanks,” I said, and walked past him, down the hall, toward the door at the end. The less time I spent around that giant, the less likely I was to do anything that might make him stomp my head in.
I stepped into the haven. It was more crowded than the night before, though I noticed only about half of the patrons were vampires. The rest were mortals—women in evening wear and tiny club outfits, and guys that looked like walking Calvin Klein ads.
Must be a sexiness factor that goes into getting hired as a donor, I thought, smiling as a young woman slid past me in a little vinyl dress. Just the heat of her body as she walked by was enough to make the gums around my canines tingle, my teeth ready to sharpen and bite into something. It was a good indication that I should probably have held off on drinking directly from a donor. My self-control was crap. So, instead, I went and sat down at the bar. Almost immediately, Roger came up to me with a warm glass of ruby red blood.
“Drink this, kid. You look like a ghost,” he said.
I winced and took a long drink. “Ah… Thanks, man,” I replied, feeling the warmth begin to spread from my chest.
“No problem. Think you’re up to trying the real thing tonight?” he asked.
I smirked and glanced around the room at some of the female donors. “I’d love to, but I just can’t trust myself, y’know?”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” he said understandingly. “But, look at it this way, Grin… How can you learn to trust yourself if you don’t test yourself?”
I nodded a little, running my finger around the rim of the glass, and took another drink. Then I threw back my head and knocked the rest of it down, panted, and put the glass back down in front of me. “One more, then maybe I’ll think about it,” I told him.
He chuckled and walked away for a moment, then came back with another glass. I sipped at it, looking cautiously around the room at the girls. I knew Roger was right—I had to take a donor eventually. I wondered for a second why bartenders always seemed so full of wisdom and sagely advice. Was there a bartenders’ philosophy book they were all required to read or something? Maybe a class they had to take?
“Look, I’ll do you a favor,” Roger offered, leaning over on the counter. “When you’re ready, go have a seat, and I’ll set you up.”
“Ah, you don’t have to do that,” I dismissed with a wave of my hand. “My first kill was a hooker. I think I’ve got this pick-up thing down.”
“You sure?” he pushed. “I know a girl that might really suit you, especially if you’re afraid of losing control.”
I laughed. “You’re telling me Buffy works here?”
He smiled back. “She just knows how to take care of herself, that’s all.”
I thought hard about it, swirling the warm, sweet liquid in the glass, then drank it down resolutely. “Let’s do this,” I said.
“That’s the spirit,” he encouraged, and took the empty glass from in front of me.
I picked up an ashtray from the bar and went across the room to an empty loveseat. I made sure to pick a place deep in the shadows so it would be harder for the girl to see my scars. The two glasses I’d drank had helped a lot. But on the other side of the room, a vampire was cradling a donor in his lap. I watched secretly, letting my black bangs hide my eyes. His head covered her neck, her eyes were closed, his hand moved between her thighs, her lips parted, and he drank from her until she pushed his shoulder away. He lifted his head and licked blood from his lips.
If that’s how it’s going to be, I don’t know how the hell I’m going to control myself…
At least, I felt that way until I saw her. She was older than me, probably in her late twenties, wearing a red dress, red heels, and had wavy blonde hair, blue eyes, and red lips. She reminded me of a pin-up girl. Her hips swayed hypnotically as she approached me. I shook my bangs farther forward to cover the sides of my face.
Oh man, here we go…
“Hey there,” she said in a cute, breathy voice, sitting down next to me. “I’m Kate.”
I smiled. “Evening, Kate,” I said, taking her hand and kissing her knuckles. “Call me Grin.”
She giggled. “This really is your first time…”
My face fell. “Sorry… Am I doing something wrong?”
“Not at all!” she said. “They’re just not normally so… polite.”
I smiled again. “I guess my father just raised me better.”
She scooted in next to me and I put my arm around her. I lifted a cigarette to my lips and lit it.
“Is that a Pall?” she sighed.
I grinned. “I dig a girl who knows her cigarettes,” I answered. “Do you want one?”
She nodded, licking her lips. I took the one I had just lit and turned it around between my fingers, and put it between those lips. She took it, closed her eyes as she sipped the smoke, and blew it out in a long stream. I looked at the red lipstick on the end of the cigarette. It looked incredibly sexy.
“Take your time with that,” I whispered, bringing her hand to my mouth again. I kissed the tips of her fingers, the back of her hand, her palm, the inside of her wrist. I felt her blood pulsing against the skin beneath my lips. My eyes blackened, and my canines extended and sharpened. Carefully, I pricked the vein in her wrist with the tips of my fangs. She gasped. I lapped at the blood that pooled on her skin, closed my mouth over the wounds, sucked them gently. My heartbeat grew a little stronger and my body grew a little warmer.
“Don’t be scared,” Kate told me. “Go deeper, or it’ll heal up on you.”
She was right. The tiny cuts I’d made were disappearing. I cradled her arm in my hands, summoned every drop of self control I possessed, and let my teeth sink in slowly. I heard Kate moan as a soft gush flowed over my tongue, followed by another, and another, and another. I fell into the rhythm of her heart, swallowing with every beat, hypnotized by the pulse. I was lost in it. I’d never done drugs, but I could imagine that this was what a real high felt like. It was way better than a nicotine rush.
“Stop,” Kate said suddenly. I broke the seal between her wrist and my lips and closed the wounds with the tip of my tongue. I watched her take a long last drag, hold it in as she put the cigarette out in the ashtray, and let it out slowly. I took another smoke out for myself.
“Are you sure you haven’t done this before?” Kate teased.
“Why? Was I good?” I asked, laughing.
“Better than some of the more experienced guys I’ve known.”
I smirked. “Y’know, I feel like I’ve had this conversation before…”
“Oh, really?” she said, catching my meaning.
“Yeah. Except I was sixteen, we were in a cemetery, and it was midnight.”
She giggled and started to twirl a lock of my hair around her finger. “Sounds romantic, in a gothic sort of way,” she commented. “Were you in love?”
“I’d only just met her that night,” I said. “I was singing in a band, she was in the crowd, there was a mutual attraction, and we left together after the show.”
I began to recall that night. At the little amphitheater in the Findlay city park, my old band, Wicked Grin and the Grave Robbers, was the last set in a summer concert. We were doing a cover of an old song by The 69 Eyes, “Velvet Touch,” when I saw her. She was near the front. I remember it was the way she moved when she banged her head, arching her back, pushing out her tits and ass, throwing her long blonde hair forward and back, forward and back. She saw me too, obviously, and she smiled every time we made eye contact. She met up with us after the show, when we were just finished putting our gear back into our drummer’s van. I offered to drive her home and she accepted, but when we got to my car—an old, black, ’62 Cadillac Coupe de Ville—she asked if we could go for a cruise first. We ended up in Findlay Cemetery, rolling around in the grass, making out, while the radio played from the car. I remembered how eagerly and clumsily we undressed each other, how it took me forever to unhook her bra because my hands were shaking so damn much, how the moonlight glowed beautifully on her skin, how her breasts bounced as she rode me, how sweat trickled down my face as I gave my final thrusts and said her name, Michelle. I’ll never forget that name, and “Velvet Touch” is a song that will always have a special place in my heart.
“You’re about to get ashes all over that nice leather jacket,” Kate advised, gesturing to my cigarette.
I looked at it, coming back to myself, and laughed. There was almost an inch of ash. I flicked it into the ashtray and took a puff.
“Well, I’d better get back to entertaining, or someone might think I’m playing favorites,” she said, winking and running her finger down my chest.
I let her up and smiled, watching her strut away, and finished off my cigarette.
Then the hair on my arms and neck stood up, just like it had when O’Malley had hypnotized me earlier. My eyes darted around the room, trying to find what was out of place.
And then, they met another pair of eyes. They belonged to the vampire I had watched earlier, sitting across the room from me. He was staring at me hatefully.
Maybe he thinks I’m some kind of weirdo for watching him feed, I thought, but then I noticed he wasn’t the only one glaring at me. Over at the bar, another vampire narrowed his eyes at me over his glass.