My head rocked upright, and my neck cried out in pain. Sweat beaded down my face and stuck my hair to the back of my neck. Panic tightened my chest, making it difficult to breathe. Had I been asleep?
I blinked against the glare of my laptop. I was in my bedroom, sitting in the dark at my desk. The website tour dates for my favorite band, Three Days Grace, were still coloring the screen. Dreaming? For the life of me, I couldn’t remember. Now a new sensation was unfurling in my stomach, an unyielding hunger that tugged at me from the inside.
The time on the laptop screen was 9:33PM. I ate dinner two hours ago; I shouldn’t be hungry. Yet I couldn’t ignore the pain, the yearning that grew stronger by the second.
Pulling away from my desk, I tiptoed from my bedroom down the blacked-out hallway. Mom and Uncle Caius were sitting on the couch in the dark living room. The glow of the TV cast blue light across their serious faces. I snuck past the doorway just in time to hear…
Authorities are stumped over what appears to be the third vicious animal attack this month, leaving the most recent victim—a young man—dead, his body almost entirely drained of blood…
The television announcement faded as I entered the kitchen. The unlit space was just as it had been left, with the marble counter tops spotlessly clean—no doubt thanks to Mom. I rummaged through the pantry, ripping into boxes of cookies, cake mix, and anything I deemed even remotely edible, which included a large bite of a raw onion. Still, nothing sated my wrenching hunger. In fact, everything I had unthinkingly shoved into my mouth, even the mint biscuits that were usually my favorites, seemed as tasteless as cardboard. Still, I couldn’t ignore the grinding in my gut, the need to feed, so I backtracked to the fridge. The sight of vegetables, juice, milk, and cheese swelled a creeping nausea inside. Then I noticed a tray of raw and bloody steaks.
Saliva flooded my mouth as sharp pain prickled my gums. Entranced, I snatched the tray from the glass shelf and tore back the plastic film. The meat was cold and squishy in my hand, but that didn’t put me off. I ripped into the cold flesh and my tongue cheered at the taste. It was better than anything I’d ever eaten, even better than chocolate. Its sweet, metallic flavor was hypnotizing. The world around me began to fade. I tore off another chunk as a moving shadow caught my eye.
“Amelia Athobry-Lamont,” my mom’s voice cut through the haze like an arrow. She was the only one who ever used my full name, and only when I was in deep trouble. It was a mash-up of hers and my dead father’s last names. The lights beamed on. “What in the world are you doing?”
My limbs retracted, muscles tightening and shoulders hunching. The hunger that had come on so quickly and forcefully, dissipated. Startled confusion spun through my mind. The pounding of my heart was so fast, so persistent. I glanced down at the shredded steak hanging limp in my hands. What the hell was I doing?
“Amelia.” Uncle Caius’s strong voice approached from behind. His hand found my shoulder, forcing me to turn.
My eyes darted down to my feet, cocooned within my purple-laced black Vans. I couldn’t look at him, the man who was so close to being the father I’d never had. He’d think I was crazy.
Uncle Caius lifted my chin, tilting my face upward as Mom stepped behind him. The age lines of his face deepened with worry.
Mom gasped and her pale complexion whitened. “You said this wouldn’t happen,” she directed at my uncle with a surprising tone drenched in accusation.
Uncle Caius shook his head, eyes saddened. “You knew there was a chance. Even after all we did.” He released my chin and turned to Mom, his tone becoming sharp. “We should have told them sooner, prepared them for this.”
Prepared? Wouldn’t happen? Tremors caused my clenched hands to shake. “Should have told us what?”
“No, no, no!” Mom spun on the spot and paced toward the kitchen table, violently shaking her head. “It’s their birthday in a week. I will not ruin their lives now. This can wait.”
She was talking about my brother Dorian and me. She had to be. It was our 16th birthday in just over a week. But what could be so damning that it would ruin our lives?
Uncle Caius reached out and pried the bloody steak from my clenched fingers, then dropped it into the deep, round sink. He lifted his hand as if to ruffle his salt and pepper hair before lowering it, seeming to remember that it was sticky with animal blood. “Lamayli,” he exhaled, pointedly looking at Mom. “This will not ruin their lives, and you know it cannot wait. It is far too dangerous.”
Dangerous? My head swam and my mind screamed for me to run, to avoid whatever they were about to reveal. Would they tell me I was crazy? Say that this wasn’t the first incident? Explain in calm tones that I was losing my rational mind? I fought the need to bolt. My voice escaped in a choke. “T-tell me.”
Mom turned on her toes, somehow regaining her natural grace. Her head stopped shaking and tears were now falling from her electric-blue eyes. “Alright,” she breathed. The word was so soft I barely heard it. Her eyes rose to my uncle. “Go get Dorian. If we’re doing this, I only want to do it once.”
Uncle Caius left with a nod, his quiet footsteps remaining audible as he went to retrieve my brother. My wide eyes turned on Mom, needing answers and unable to wait, but she wouldn’t look at me. Instead her eyes were downcast with one hand clutching the edge of the table.
Moments later Uncle Caius re-emerged. Dorian tailed behind with chocolate colored bed head and bloodshot eyes, probably from online prowling for tail in the dark. Mom lowered herself into the seat heading the table and motioned for us all to follow. Dorian raised a questioning eyebrow at me. Guilt-ridden, I shrugged, not having any of the answers he needed just as much as I did. Blood roared through my ears as I glanced at Mom. She’d begun drumming her French-tipped nails against the hardwood of the dining table.
“So, what’s with the family meeting?” Dorian questioned, curious but clearly unconcerned.
Uncle Caius cleared his throat. “I can tell them, Lamayli.”
Mom’s face shot up, lightning fast, causing me to jump. “No! Please. Let me. I want them to hear it from me.”
Our uncle nodded and Mom sucked in a ragged breath. “I didn’t want to tell you this way,” she said glancing from Dorian to me. “But Caius is right. After what we’ve witnessed tonight, it is clear I cannot shelter this from either of you any longer.” Mom laid her head in her hands, rubbing slow circles over her temples.
“Have we done something wrong?” Dorian questioned.
I knew the answer would be no, of course we hadn’t. But I had. I’d done something sick, something crazy. Perhaps she thought Dorian would too. But why?
“No,” Mom replied. She lifted her head and looked at us through glazed eyes. “None of this is either of your faults. I need you both to remember that.” Her words died then with a spluttering sob.
“Your mother and I never wanted to hurt either of you,” Uncle Caius spoke for her. He placed a cold hand over mine. “We thought we could stave off the transformation, possibly forever. However we can see that it has already begun in you, Amelia. It is only a matter of time before Dorian develops the thirst, too.”
Dorian voiced the question I was too terrified to ask. “The thirst?”
“Yes sweetheart.” Mom lifted bloodshot eyes to my brother. “Your sister’s body is developing a need for blood, blood that must be consumed. Soon yours will, too.”
I felt my stomach turn at the word consumed, remembering the taste of the bloody steak. In the same instant, my mouth watered and a familiar sensation danced across my gums. Praying for a rational explanation, I went to talk, to ask if what we had was some form of rare blood disorder.
But my words choked back when Dorian’s eyes widened in a look of sheer horror. He shot to his feet. “What the hell!”
Uncle Caius’s hand tightened over mine. “Sit down, Dorian. Amelia would never harm you.”
Harm him? The words caused my mind to boggle.
“But her teeth!” Dorian exclaimed, pointing while bouncing on the balls of his feet. I’d never even seen him look worried before, but right now he looked seriously scared, ready to bolt.
With all eyes on me, I fearfully raised a hand to my mouth. My fingers grazed over sharpened canines that protruded from my gums.
Oh my god, I was a freak! Hyperventilating, I freed my other hand from Caius’s grip and jumped to my feet, kicking back my chair. “What’s wrong with me?”
Dorian froze, still as a statue, his terrified eyes locked on me. Mom spluttered in desolation.
Yet Uncle Caius remained calm. He rose from his seat, turning slowly to face me. “Amelia, sit back down. We will explain everything.”
I shook my head, taking a step back. “No. Tell me now!”
Mom wiped away her tears and sniffed. “You’re both…” She paused, looking like she might be physically sick. “We’re…”
“Vampires,” Uncle Caius spoke gently. “We are all vampires.”
Dorian let out a nervous laugh. “You’re joking, right? This is a pre-birthday prank. And those,” he said pointing at my fangs, “are fake. Good one, you seriously had me going for a second there.”
I stared across the table with vacant eyes. “This can’t be. It’s…impossible.”
“C’mon Amelia,” Dorian went on, the confidence in his voice waning. “The charade is up.”
Tears stung my eyes as anger began to boil inside of me. “This isn’t a charade!” The callousness in my hissed words startled us both.
Dorian’s wavering smile finally vanished, replaced by an expression of total fear.
The way he, Mom, and Uncle Caius were staring enraged me further. Watching them I knew the truth; I was a monster. In blinding fury I launched myself across the kitchen and onto the counter, crouching like a wild animal. I ripped the bloody steak from the sink and tore into it with my fangs. “See!” I screamed, raising the shredded meat above my head. “Does this look like a joke?”
Dorian gagged and backed up, hitting the bay window. Mom simply stared, wide-eyed.
“Amelia, let us explain.” Uncle Caius stepped toward me. “Just take a deep breath and try to calm down.”
“Calm down? Calm down!” My breathing was fast and ragged. The room was beginning to spin. Whatever was happening to me was their fault. It had to be. My lungs began to ache. I couldn’t breathe. I needed air. Even more than that, I needed to get out of here. I needed to be far away from them with their expressions of pitying fear. “You made me a monster. I hate you for this!”
I launched from the marble counter, shot through the hallway and escaped out the front door. The cool night air hit me as my feet pounded the gravel driveway. A spray of white snow kicked up behind me. I could feel my muscles lengthening and retracting like tightly coiled springs, pushing me forward at an inhuman speed. Houses flew past in a monochrome blur. My eyes focused only in front of me. Freezing wind whipped passed my face and into my eyes. In the t-shirt and jeans I was wearing, the wind chill should have bit into my skin. Should have, but didn’t. I wasn’t even cold. These changes inside me further confirmed my fears. They were telling the truth. I was a…vampire.
I shook the ridiculous word from my mind and focused on the pavement as the balls of my feet hit harder and faster. I knew my intended destination. The night club my best friend, Kendrick, visited every Friday when he wasn’t off snowboarding. Right now I needed his support, and hoped for his undying loyalty. Seething fear surged adrenaline through my body and gripped me from within. What if he thought I was a monster too? Imagining his reaction terrified me. How could he accept this…this living nightmare I was becoming?
The passing houses fell behind me, replaced by commercial strips. I pushed myself faster still, keeping to the shadows and somehow passing with ease the moving cars on the streets. I pulled to an abrupt halt after taking a shortcut through an unlit alley. To the right was the club’s entrance, with a bright flashing neon sign above the doorway. Pulse.
A solid-built bouncer manning the door caught sight of me as I neared. “ID?” It was clear from his smirking expression that he knew I was underage.
I gulped, shrugging my shoulders. “Please, I just need to find my friend.”
The bouncer’s smirk thinned into a humorless line. “No ID, no entry.”
Like an irritating itch you can’t quite reach, his radiating aura of authority angered me. I squared my shoulders and clenched my jaw, staring him down. “Let me in.”
The bouncer’s superior expression faltered. He blinked once, then slowly pulled back the velvet robe and stood aside. I darted through the entry, so relieved to be inside that I didn’t stop to question his split-second change in attitude.
The pulsing music hit me first, sending shock wave vibrations through my body and painfully though my ears. The smell, like walking straight into a brick wall, hit me second. Salt, body odor, alcohol, and a scent I’d never experienced before tonight: blood. My mouth watered while the other scents made me want to gag. Trying to ignore the draw of that new scent, I pushed myself away from the gyrating bodies on the strobe-lit dance floor and over to the bar. The scents dulled as my distance grew.
With a ragged breath, I slid onto one of the bar stools, scanning the busy crowd for Kendrick. Please be here.
A guy’s strong cologne hit me even before he spoke. But it wasn’t Kendrick. It was Joel Nickel, a senior and, as star quarterback, the king of our school. “Hey, hot stuff,” he began with slurred speech then paused. “Hey, I know you. You’re a sophomore, Amily or something?” He smiled and winked. “Fake ID huh? Planning to get messy and have some fun tonight?”
Part of me was thrilled that the superstar of our school was even acknowledging my existence. The other part just wanted him to leave so I could scope out Kendrick. “Amelia,” I said, and turned to the bar, hoping he’d get a clue and leave me the hell alone. He didn’t.
Instead, he took a step closer. “Come on babe, how’s about a drink?”
He was too close, standing only an inch from me. I could smell his blood under the astringent cologne, and worse than that, I could hear his quickening pulse.
“No!” I snapped, muscles twitching, aching with thirst. “Go away.”
Joel chuckled, amused. “Playing hard to get?” He inclined his lips to graze my ear. “I like a challenge.”
His alcohol-drenched breath beat against my neck, sending a ripple down my spine. I could hear the blood pumping faster and louder through his body. Too close. Too freaking close!
That already too-familiar tingle danced across my gums. My mouth salivated. I went to move, to force myself away from him before I became the monster from my favorite Skillet song. His hand caught my shoulder, and it was more than I could take. His scent was now stronger, moving with arousal through his veins.
No longer in control—no longer even myself—I spun on the spot and whispered, “Dark and secluded…”
A victorious smile tugged at Joel’s lips. He curled an arm around my waist, pulling me from the bar. We passed the partygoers and slipped out the back door and into the dark alley. Urine and wafting smells of garbage from a nearby dumpster coupled the scent of his blood.
Joel turned to face me. But I was faster. My hands shot up to his shoulders, nails digging in as I drove him back against the brick wall.
He chuckled, amused. “A fiery one… I knew it.”
His complete lack of awareness to the threat before him angered and excited me. The option to stop, to walk away, was long gone. The thirst had taken over. His hands found my waist and traveled up, forcing their way beneath the fabric of my t-shirt.
Disgusted by his touch, I jerked his back off the wall then slammed him back against the bricks. “Don’t move!”
Joel’s hands dropped obediently and he smiled. “You’re the boss.”
His words evoked a broad smile across my face. Too broad, I realized, as his own smile fell. His eyes widened in shocked disbelief. “What the fuck?”
Moving at lightning speed, I clamped a hand over his mouth and forced his face to the side. I pressed my other hand against his chest, pinning him to the wall. His arms flailed, but it was no use. I was stronger. My eyes zeroed in on a fat vein pulsing along his neck. Then instinct took over. My teeth plunged into his flesh. The warm, metallic taste of his blood filled my mouth. It was an entrancing flavor coupled by the sound of his racing pulse.
A moan of pleasure escaped his lips and his muscles relaxed. His resistance had ceased. That’s when I noticed it. His heart was slowing. The blood loss… I’m killing him. Part of me cried to release him, to not be the monster my uncle and mom had claimed me to be. But I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to.
When his body slumped against me, my strength somehow kept him pinned. Death was close. Still, I couldn’t stop. Not now. Not yet. Not when something buried so deep within me was awakening.
The smells of the alley soared, muddling together in their intensity to become indiscernible. And I could hear…everything: stray drops of rain hitting puddles, rats gnawing on discarded rubbish. Then something else reached my ears, something quieter. Footsteps?
A blur shot from the shadows. Something as hard as concrete connected with my arm, ripping me from my victim. Then I was flying backwards through the air as Joel crumpled to the ground. I connected with a thud against the adjacent wall before falling in a heap on the uneven asphalt. Instantly, the spell of Joel’s blood was broken. The reality of what I had just done spun like a maelstrom through my mind. I’d killed him!
Tears plagued my eyes, spilling down my face and tinting my sight rose-colored. I swiped at them, but stalled. Blood was smeared across the back of my hands. Crying blood?
I barely had time to wonder how that was possible when the intruder’s towering shadow closed in on me. He clutched something in his hand that glinted silver with the escaping moonlight. A weapon? I blinked up through tear-filled eyes, knowing my life was about to end. With heavy clouds blocking the moonlight again, and through my distorted vision, I could barely make out his dark features. “Kill me,” I sniffed, letting my bloody tears stream down my face like a waterfall. “I’m a fucking monster!”
The boy with hair black as night faltered, pausing right before me. The hand holding the weapon stalled. “You want to die?”
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Genre – YA Paranormal Romance
Rating – PG-13+
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