Her anger was intoxicating; it washed over me as self-hatred devoured her. I could taste her hopelessness heavy on my tongue, fortifying me. She was exactly what I needed after two days off. There were nights that I came to work and didn’t feed, but this was not one of those times. My patient was seconds from coding, her voice shrill and fists poised to hurt herself or someone else – which would mean calling security, restraints, and enough sedatives to put a person into a coma. The key, I’d learned, to feeding from the ill was to do so gently. Breathing in her chaos, I ingested her emotions slowly. It was the only way to keep her from complete unconsciousness, and myself hidden.
Her name was Maize, and she’d tried to kill herself three days ago. Oozing wounds covered her body from head to toe; her body stank of old blood. Every inch of her was covered with scars, her form misshapen from years of mutilation. It was evident the doctors had given up suturing long ago; jagged lines of staples were the only things holding her together anymore. Thankfully I’d found a way to exist without the blood – for now – which was good because her anemic and withered frame couldn’t afford any more blood loss.
What I needed was her suffering. What I wanted were her emotions, the one thing she had in abundance. It was a small price to pay for peace. The mentally ill were easy prey, I just had to find a way to draw them in and force a connection. Physical contact was the easiest way to grab hold; it solidified their focus on me and allowed me to ensnare them. Fortunately I’d taken care of Maize several times before now, which made hijacking and her mind and entwining myself within her that much easier. I had quickly become her favorite nurse; there was just something about the way only I could calm her soul. All she needed were a few kind words, maybe some guided imagery, a gentle but supportive touch… and she was mine.
It felt like I was tapping into a live wire as I fed on her turmoil and took from her the anxiety that drove her to cut, the crushing depression that sapped her will to live, and the fear that kept her imprisoned. I fed freely on her excess trauma, ingesting every emotion just as quickly as it was created. I was better than any antidepressant, better than therapy, and the only relief Maize had ever known. Unfortunately this relief was only ever temporary.
I took until her mind spun; exhausted and sapped of the awful energy she thrived on, I provided her with true salvation: the medications she never remembered to take and a good night’s rest. I hoped, as I tucked her in, that tomorrow would be better. Her pain, once so fresh, was now masked by a mixture of fatigue and sedation as her blue eyes closed. I felt renewed by the forty beautiful minutes I’d been afforded to meticulously strip away Maize’s excess emotions. It wasn’t always so easy. Some people were completely closed off, especially here. The level of trauma that some of my patients experienced had completely destroyed them; there was nothing left. Not for me or for them.
No one tells you how to be a vampire, or at least no one stuck around to tell me. What I did know was that there weren’t a lot of us, because not a lot of us survive the exchange. For those of us who do exist, we are as different from one another as fingerprints. The only constant is that we all need to feed. Dark thoughts played at the back of my mind like dirty fingers digging into my skin, thoughts that I had to work hard to ignore. I’d found a way to sustain myself, but it wouldn’t be enough… not forever. Knowledge not my own spoke of a need I would not be able to gratify with the passive ingestion of people alone.
For now it was enough; it had to be. Luckily, feeding this way was easy, especially because all I had to do was come to work. I’d been a nurse at Oceanside Behavioral Health since before everything happened to me, and I hoped I could keep up the charade until I figured out what to do.
“Hey, good job with her. Did you give her something?” Quin asked from over my left shoulder, startling me.
I was just able to stifle a curse. Per his norm, Quin was leaning over me. He draped his arm across the back of my chair, forcing me to lean back as his weight counterbalanced my own. Quin was one of the rare few I’d never been able to read, but unlike my patients, his mind wasn’t foggy, it was just blank.
“Yeah, it’s amazing what a healthy dose of antipsychotics can do to calm the soul,” I responded passively. “A little Ativan doesn’t hurt, either.”
I tried to hide my apprehension as he read over my shoulder. The heat from his body was distracting, and despite having just eaten, I was hungry. That was the problem: I was always hungry and no amount was ever enough. It was a constant battle as I struggled not to pry apart the minds of everyone who crossed my path. If I wasn’t careful I would force feed: taking freely without consent or concern. That kind of feeding didn’t go unnoticed.
A few months ago Quin, a couple of security guards, and I had all been stuck in an eight-by-eight seclusion room together. An obtuse man was kicking the locked door with enough force to bend the metal frame. Anger spewed from him, free and abundant, and nothing we tried helped. I wasn’t able to subdue him as his rage suffocated me. It wasn’t until he broke loose from security and his fist connected with the center of my chest that I lost my temper. My own irritation and anger ignited and before I could catch my breath I tore into him and everyone else nearby.
I inadvertently placed my patient into a stupor, forced the guards to stumble, and brought Quin to his knees at the entrance of the seclusion room. My patient recovered quickly but with evidently less conviction. The security guards, too proud to admit they’d almost fainted, returned to their task of restraining the madman. The problem was Quin. He’d put two and two together, and the look of amazement and curiosity that crossed his gaunt features made me instantly uneasy.
Since then, he’d been trying to get me alone, questioning my exceptional management of even the most psychotic patients, insistently trying to figure out how I did it, and finding any excuse he could to encroach. All of it was made worse by Quin’s immunity to me, which made him a one-in-a-million pain in my ass. For months now he’d been sneaking up on me. I almost wished he’d just get it over with and ask. At least then I’d have an idea of what he knew. This ultimately was the problem of feeding without consent: they could feel me consuming and ripping into their mind. Unintentionally, I’d forced my consciousness onto Quin and took a part of him into myself, and now he wanted more.
Every night, Quin eventually relented and returned to his own work. I’d hoped that with enough time he’d lose interest, but so far it seemed that it had only amplified his curiosity. This, I knew, was going to be a problem – and while I didn’t know why, every instinct told me the only way I could be safe was in hiding. I spent every shift avoiding him.
Finally my twelve hours of servitude had reached its end. Finishing the last of my notes, clicking the last of my boxes, and fumbling through hand-off; I’d made it through another shift without discovery.
Overcast skies and cool mist greeted me as I left the hospital; the smell of rain always cleared my head. I turned my face to the sky, enjoying the feel of it on my skin. It was ritualistic in nature, my need to detach myself from my shift and other people’s need of me. This moment was for me, a second of reflection as I left work. In spite of my best efforts, I was getting out of work late. Regardless, the empty parking lot brought with it a welcomed silence as exhaustion and light exposure weakened my senses. It was time to rest and reset.
Keys in hand, I tossed my lunchbox into the passenger seat – had to keep up appearances. That’s when I felt him, Quin’s mind a brief and bright flash across mine just before he pinned me to the side of my car. The impact forced the air from my lungs; the sudden squeak of an exhale and jangling keys broke the previous silence.
“Easy way or the hard way?” Quin asked, the tenor of his voice loud in my ear.
I reacted, instinct making me fight for the room required to take a breath and escape. That’s when I felt the knife slip between my ribs. Slow and sharp, the pain engulfed me as the knife nestled into my intercostal space.
“I guess silver does hurt,” Quin said as my overcast sky went black.
The smell of blood and dirt woke me; my uniform was caked reddish-black from the mixture. Sitting up, my vision blurred. At least it was dark here, wherever here was. Best guess: I was in an unfinished basement. From the looks of it, this place wasn’t part of the original floor plan. Crates made up the stairs that led to a rough-looking cellar door. Scooting back, I propped myself against the cool cement wall of the make-shift basement and began the tedious work of removing my scrub top.
“I guess silver does hurt… felt like lava.” My snide remark and mockery of Quin did nothing to decrease the pain.
The tank top underneath was saturated, the blood here fresher. I quickly went to work, ripping the fabric of the scrub top into bindings. What I wouldn’t give for clean water, gauze, and an ace wrap. Hissing, I cinched the fabric around my waist. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back, exhausted. I could just make out the low rumble of male voices from inside the house. Starvation was heightening my senses, and for a second I thought I could smell them through the floorboards. Regrettably, I hadn’t been imagining it, as the scent of them grew stronger, pouring over me just as light flooded in from the cellar door.
I hadn’t been afraid until now, and I did my best to press myself against the far wall, wishing that I had been blessed with the power of invisibility. The man who entered the basement looked to be around 5 feet 10 inches and 180 pounds of pure rage and muscle. He gave me nothing, his mind completely immune to my probing. He held wicked-looking gun loosely in his right hand. The black steel was every bit as menacing as the obsidian of his eyes. I’m sure I looked absolutely pitiful pressed tight against that wall, my left arm tight under my chest as I desperately fought to control my bleeding.
Slowly, the gun in his right hand leveled with my face. Heart racing, I felt my breath catch in my throat like a bowling ball. If this man was afraid of me, it never showed. He moved cautiously but with purpose before crouching beside me, the muzzle of the gun pressed hard against my sternum. With his free hand he pulled my arm away, inspecting the wound and my binding. I stared unblinking and terrified of the man in front of me. Eyes watering, I felt tears streak down my dirt-covered face.
“Show me,” he demanded, his voice deep and just as stoic as his demeanor.
I fumbled with the knot, eyes never leaving his face, but he was impatient. Shoving my hands away, he ripped hard against the fabric. I bit back a cry, the muzzle of his gun providing me with a welcome distraction. The force required to rip the binding away sent searing pain spidering through me like breaking glass. Again my vision swam; I could feel new blood burning its way down my side. The smell made every fiber of my being come to life. It took me a second to realize that it wasn’t my blood I smelled, but his. It took everything I had to restrain myself and fight the hunger that urged me to feed, to devour, to survive…
“Don’t scream.” It was the only warning I received before he dug his fingers into my side.
White-hot pain erupted through my body; weakly, my right hand grabbed his arm, desperate for him to stop. He flinched at my grasp, dark eyes meeting mine as he pressed the gun harder against my skin.
“By all means…” I loosened my grip, letting my arm fall away.
After he was done performing what felt like a lobectomy, he stood up, looming over me for a second before finally leaving. Good. Maybe now I could focus on healing and sleep; it was clear I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Feebly I rubbed my sternum and the deep circular imprint left behind – a stark reminder that the worst was yet to come. That day I dreamt of the coven, of the night my life was ripped away and this one had begun.
Quin waited in the kitchen for Marc to return. Fingers tapping against the tabletop, he played a lazy drumbeat on its surface. Patience was not his strong suit – that and he was exhausted. Quin’s normal diet of caffeine pills, cigarettes, and energy drinks just wasn’t cutting it today. The adrenaline high from earlier certainly hadn’t helped either. He was running on fumes, especially after twenty hours without sleep. Nothing quite got him excited like the chance of injury. Quin had been at Oceanside since its beginning; he guessed wrangling the mentally ill and meth heads just wasn’t doing it for him anymore. It’d been a long time since he’d felt so exhilarated.
Apparently he was the only one, because when Marc finally returned, he was pissed. Fists clenched, jaw tight, Marc affixed him with a vicious stare. Quin spent a lot of time around agitated people and he knew in that moment that Marc wanted nothing more than to hurt him.
“Why did you bring her here?!” Marc all but yelled.
“Where else would I take her?” Quin asked, pushing himself away from the table, creating a bit more distance between himself and Marc.
“You work together, and you abducted her from the parking lot? What the fuck were you thinking?” Marc spat the words.
“Okay, I get it, you’re mad.” Quin sighed, rubbing his left hand through his black hair. “I thought we could use her, that she’d be able to help us.”
Marc stared at Quin for a long time, trying to understand. “So you stabbed her? Why would you think that was a good idea, Quin? She’s bleeding out down there; do you know what happens when a vampire becomes feral?”
All Quin could manage was a nod. “I didn’t know if I could get her here otherwise. I’ve seen her feed every night; I guess I thought she’d be stronger.”
“That wound isn’t healing; if she ate every night, it would have closed by now,” Marc said, matter-of-fact.
Quin shrugged, straddling the kitchen chair, he tapped his feet nervously. At a loss for words, he rubbed his temples; fatigue had started to make his head pound.
“How has she fed, Quin?” Marc pressed, annoyed by the uncharacteristic silence.
“It was a few months back; we had this guy that needed restraints. He managed to pull away, hit her square in the chest.” Quin struck out with his own fist for emphasis. “About knocked her on her ass. Thing was, before security or I could regain control, she had us all on our asses.”
“How do you mean?” Marc asked.
“That’s the thing, I don’t know! It felt like the air was being ripped from my lungs, and she never even moved. But she leveled six grown men.” Quin was standing now, trying to give more emphasis to his stature. “I see her do it every night. Patients in full-blown psychosis are suddenly out cold where IM medications couldn’t even touch them.”
“You know I don’t know what that means—”
“Intramuscular. A shot with sedatives, the kind serial killers use to abduct people,” Quin spouted quickly.
“Did you ever see her bite people, or was it always from afar?” Marc asked, lost in thought.
Quin shrugged again and saw Marc’s temper flare. “From afar, I guess. I never noticed if she did and there was never any blood.”
“What’s your plan here, Quin? From what I can tell, she’s not healing. If your goal was to kill her, then congratulations. If a vampire doesn’t feed, they can’t heal.”
Bile rose in the back of Quin’s throat, forcing him to clear it away with a choked cough. Panic and exhaustion made it hard for him to concentrate. He’d been so sure; he just had to get her here and then…
“I didn’t know. I thought maybe if I weakened her it would be easier,” he admitted, “She was supposed to heal, Marc; it wasn’t supposed to matter.”
Relaxing, Marc unclenched his fists. “Listen, I know you’re new to this, but we aren’t hit men. You can’t just go around stabbing people and non-people.”
Quin nodded tiredly. “They’re usually harder to kill. I thought she’d heal; you told me wounds don’t count if they aren’t lethal.”
“Don’t blame me for your stupidity; you only hear the parts you want to hear. You’re like a damn ten-year-old. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the only reason you joined was because you thought it’d be cool to kill vampires like Van Helsing.” Marc berated.
“Alright!” Quin shouted, launching the chair out from under himself. He was in Marc’s face before he knew what he was going to do. “I fucked up, okay? But I can’t kill someone, especially not her. I – I work with her.”
He wasn’t so much angry as he was scared; his thoughts raced. Adrenaline was definitely playing its part in shutting off the thinking parts of his brain. Crossing his arms, Marc stared down at Quin; his dark brown eyes appeared black in the dimly lit kitchen. This time though, he wasn’t glaring.
“Why her, Quin. Why’d you pick her? Why bring her here?” Marc’s voice had taken on a softer tone.
“I knew her from before. She hasn’t changed,” Quin relented, letting the remains of his anger fall away as he spoke. “I mean, she has…” Quin took a step back, “I can’t just let her die.”
“Okay.” Marc said, acknowledging Quin’s words. He’d finally gotten some truth. Even if Quin’s how in getting Eryn here was wrong, his why wasn’t.
The terror of the coven plagued my sleep – the smell of them, the blood, his dead eyes… the sound of teeth scraping bone. I was trapped in that dark room again. Reliving my death as they took more and more from me, as they took him… Those eyes didn’t see me any more than his skin could feel my touch. I had stopped fighting, waited for my turn; there was nothing left that could be taken from me – or so I thought.
When I awoke I was still in a dark room, but this wasn’t the one in my dreams. Here I wasn’t alone. Quin sat on the makeshift stairs; he was half in and half out of the basement, leaning forward with his arms resting on his knees. His sapphire eyes fixed on me. Meeting his gaze, I sat up slowly, watching as he revealed the shotgun cradled in his lap. Unlike the other man, Quin just wanted me to know it was there.
“I can feel your pulse. Tell me, are you scared for me or because of me?” I asked, absently tapping my leg to the beat of his racing heart.
The smell of his guilt was sour in my nose as his feelings of remorse seeped through the cracks in the brick wall that was his mind. It wouldn’t be long before I couldn’t stop myself.
“Please, leave or use that gun,” I urged. My veins were on fire as I struggled against the need to eat and my instinct to survive.
“I’m sorry. Try not to fight, okay? I’m going to fix this. Trust me.” Trust… His guilt crashed into me, overwhelming my senses as four men descended into the basement. “Don’t fight,” were his words, but his emotions told me something different: ‘I don’t want to kill you.’
I could see him clearer than I ever had before, his barriers falling away to reveal his turmoil, his pain, and the life he’d led – disappointment after disappointment as he self-sabotaged, all alone. His memories flooded my mind. I was paralyzed as he leveled the shotgun and four men stepped around him, each one restraining a limb. It was my heart that raced now as Quin’s psyche overtook mine.
‘Trust me’, his thoughts urged. It was all I could hear as he confined me within his mind, forcing emotion after emotion into my head.
‘You’re distracting me?’ I thought, watching as Quin visibly flinched.
It’d been working up until the moment I felt the prick of the needle puncturing my skin. The sharpness of it focused my mind just enough to pull away from his. Why was he starting an IV? Saline wasn’t going to help me. Realization lifted the fog of his mind from mine. Line primed red, I began to fight.
“You’ll be killing her. Are you sure?” Marc watched as Quin paced. “If I’m right and she hasn’t fed before, you’ll be completing the transformation. Are you sure that’s what she even wants?”
Quin stopped a moment, covering his face with his hands while he collected his thoughts. “No one wants to bleed out in a basement.”
“If you do this, your life will be tied to hers: tethered. Whoever she becomes after this, it becomes a part of you, too.” Marc knew what Quin was going to do; he just hoped he understood the consequences.
Tethering a vampire intertwined their life force with the hunter’s. That is if the hunter was even able to survive the exchange and not be completely consumed. If it worked, Eryn would be forever bound. With any luck she and Quin could learn to control the impulses and hunger that she would become.
“You’re sure?” Marc asked again, fearful of the possibility of failure, and of success.
A sly smile played across Quin’s lips. “I know what could happen if I can’t control her, but there’s a chance.”
Dark curiosity burned in his eyes, it was this curiosity that would be Quin’s downfall, of this Marc was certain. “Get ready, then. We have seven hours until nightfall.”
Sticky, red liquid filled the once clear IV line. I watched in horror as Quin flicked the clamp open in one precise movement. Gravity would force the cold fluid into my veins drop by drop, sealing my fate.
“No, Quin, you can’t!” I screamed, fighting desperately to dislodge the IV, pleading for him to stop as I lashed out, tearing at the corners of his mind.
If he was going to be in my head, then he was going to understand. I would make them all understand as I forced every memory of that night into their skulls. It was the way their teeth ripped into me, the smell of their putrid breath, and the pressure of their bodies as they overtook mine. It was the pain I felt as I watched the life fade from Alexander’s eyes. But if Quin understood, if any of them understood, they never showed it. All I heard was Quin’s voice low and hypnotic – I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. The sound of his voice was on repeat as he overwhelmed me.
There was a reason I’d never truly fed, a reason I sustained myself on the emotions, a reason I fought. I knew that if I fed, that the death that lay dormant in my veins would be awakened. I’d be just like the monsters that had killed my husband. Anything left of my humanity, of me, would be lost.
“Please,” I hated the fear-seeped tone of my voice, but it was too late; as the blood entered my veins I never wanted it to stop.
In that moment, being held down and forced to consume, the coven won. Drop by drop I was erased, any control I had left was consumed by my need. I hadn’t realized my existence before now was like being trapped underwater. I’d been holding my breath, the full agony of it realized as soon as I took my first breath. Suddenly the hands that held me didn’t feel as heavy as they did before. Lashing out, I watched as the man who’d been restraining my left leg crumpled against the far wall.
“Quin!” a familiar voice yelled, dark brown eyes meeting mine; it was the man from before.
“Marc,” I said curiously, liking the feel of his name. I’d claimed this knowledge of him before he could slam his mind closed to me once more. That was fine; Marc couldn’t keep me out forever.
It was hard to focus though with all of Quin’s chanting. The persistence of his tone quickly reclaimed control of my attention, demanding my focus. He was distracting and despite my best attempts to rip apart his mind, I couldn’t disrupt his hymn. The only crack in his armor was the pain that sparked in his blue eyes. Maybe I could break him.
Before I could try pain sharp and abrupt tore down my arm. He’d opened an uneven line – first in my flesh, then his own. Blood spilled from him and onto me. The deep red of it burned across my skin with every drop. Blood connected us, jagged cut to jagged cut, as he clasped my arm in his own. I was lost again, this time by the merging of my memories with his.
I was four again; my mother lay comatose in her bed as I built castles out of her pill bottles. I was five, and my grandparents cried and prayed over me at the foster home. I was six, and my father showed me to my bedroom – tea sets and Barbie dolls. I was ten; the babysitter was lifting up my pajamas, asking if I wanted to play a game. I was twelve, tucking my brothers in before my dad came home drunk to yell at me. I was fifteen, swallowing pills before I went off to bed – hoping there wouldn’t be a tomorrow. I was sixteen, and suddenly there was him… Get out! Get out, get out, get out of my head!