I always figured dying would solve most of my problems. As it turns out, my murder just made my normally pain-in-the-ass life even worse.
Probably because I didn't stay dead.
Before I was so rudely executed and buried with as much care as a stray cat, my name was Max Higgins. I guess since I'm still able to talk about it, it still is my name.
It was late at night when I woke up in a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere. I clawed my way out of the ground, fighting my way to the surface past the cool soil, spitting out rocks and dirt. I crawled away from the hole, rubbed the grime away from my eyes and tried to clear my head. A group of angry bees seemed to be at war inside my skull.
I had no idea where I the hell I was. Surrounded by tall trees, all of which looked identical and ominous, the air was filled with the sounds of nocturnal creatures, hooting and clicking around me. The moon hung in the sky like a big pizza pie, but I had nothing like amore on my mind. I wanted to know why I was buried in the woods. I tried to scrape the dirt from my tongue and pulled myself to my feet.
My first thought was that I'd been mugged, so I reached for my wallet. I still had some cash, my driver's license that showed I was one week away from being old enough to legally get into a bar, the credit card my mother had given me to be used only in case of extreme emergency, an unused condom that had been there since I was twelve and had long since expired, and membership cards to Starfleet Academy, the Justice League of America and my student ID to Hogwarts. Those last three things pretty much explained the unused condom.
I got up and gave myself a pat-down. I had my cellphone, but not my car keys. I tried my cell, but it was dead. I didn't realize at the time that it wasn't alone. I looked down at myself and realized my Firefly T-shirt was stained with something dark and red. It was blood. A lot of blood. I suppose that was my first clue.
I started to wonder if I might have killed someone. That's when a familiar feeling set in. Panic. I was used to panicking. I did it all the time. Whenever I found myself in the right circumstances, like talking in public, facing a bully who had thoughts of giving me a swirly twinkling in his eye, or worst of all, talking to an attractive girl. Thankfully, the bullying wasn't as much of an issue since I started college, but the talking to girls hadn't gotten any better. All of these scenarios habitually gave me a nauseating twist in my gut, made the hair on my neck stand at attention and caused my heart to beat so hard, I felt like it just might burst through my chest.
Only this was a two out of three things as I suddenly realized that I couldn't feel my heartbeat. I guess that was clue number two. I pressed my fingers to my neck and I couldn't find a pulse. What I did find were two holes in my throat. Let's call that clue number three.
Before I could begin to entertain the meaning of everything, the wind shifted. There was a scent on the air that set my blood on fire and made my body ache with need. I thought I would lose my mind if I didn't follow that smell.
Instinct kicked in and I started to run. I crashed through bushes and hurled myself over large rocks. Something seemed off about the way I was running, but I was too enthralled by the inhuman urge to find the source of the scent to wonder about it. At least until I came across a steep drop in the rock face. It was a twenty-foot drop to a small stream of water. The prize that I sought was somewhere on the other side, its scent teasing me, calling me forward.
Without thinking, I backed up a few feet and accelerated forward, launching myself over the crevice. I landed gracefully on the other side.
"Holy crap," I said. The aroma forgotten for a moment, I went back to look at the distance I had jumped. I could barely cross a room tripping over my own feet. How did I do that? Why did I even try? I hate climbing on a stool to change a lightbulb.
The breeze shifted and I caught the scent again. All thoughts of my gold medal leap were swept from my mind as I began to once again stalk my prey. I was getting closer. I could literally taste them.
Bursting through the foliage, I spotted them. So helpless, so unaware. A young couple strolled hand in hand, lost in the romance of a late-night stroll. Both were completely unaware of me.
They both wore light coats to shield them against the small chill in the autumn air. He had blonde hair, neatly trimmed. He was big and muscular, while she was tall and thin with wavy dark hair and delicate features.
We were on the edge of a park. The unsuspecting couple casually walked along the path, talking in whispered tones, pausing every now and again for a tender kiss.
I knew what I wanted to do to them and it both horrified and excited me, but I had a need that was burning in my veins. A thirst that needed blood to be satiated. Their blood.
I edged closer. I could hear their conversation, but their words didn't register. It was nothing more than background noise. I was much more enticed but the subtle sound of their breathing and the delicious scent of their bodies that wafted on the cool, even breeze. I moved closer and could hear their heartbeats. Strong and steady, pushing their life's blood through their veins. Their hearts beating in near-perfect unison.
I moved closer, amazed at the ease at which I was able to move silently through the foliage. The pair remained oblivious to me as I stalked them.
I stopped short when I heard a third heartbeat. Faster than theirs, stronger and yet more fragile at the same time.
"Ooh," said the girl. "She just kicked."
She placed his hand on her stomach which showed the beginnings of a baby bump.
"He did?" He placed his hand gently on her, as they laughed at their private joke about the unknown gender.
The fact that she was with child both thrilled and revolted me at the same time. I instinctively knew it would make her taste all the sweeter, yet something held me back. If I attacked, I could easily take them both. I could feed and quell this burning hunger inside of me. They wouldn't stand a chance.
I saw it in my mind. I would swoop in and shatter her legs. As she fell to the ground, I would take the male. He would fight to defend his mate and unborn child, but I could snap his arms before sinking my teeth into his neck. Their screams would be music as I drained him. And when I was done, I would fall upon the woman. She would beg, not only for her life but for the life of her baby.
Once I tasted their blood, I wouldn't be able to hold back until my thirst was fully quenched.
I felt myself quiver. It would be so easy. My body was shaking from the need to feed. I wanted them. I ached to quench my thirst. In a matter of moments, I could slaughter the young family and take my fill.
I moved closer and saw their faces light up in delight. The baby had kicked right where the man's hand rested the mother's tummy. Their eyes met in a moment of pure love and joy.
And my stomach turned.
I ran away. I put as much distance between myself and my former prey as possible. The perpetual klutz that I had always been returned in my desperation to avoid becoming a murderer. I lost my footing and rolled down a small hill and splashing into a stream. I laughed, actually taking comfort in the familiarity of tripping over my own feet again.
I looked at my reflection in the water. I was still in my own skin. Just under six feet tall, thin with a mess of dark hair. But I wasn't the same. My face had changed. I was pale, with dark, hungry eyes. And I had fangs that could easily rip into flesh.
What had I become?
I had kept running until I found a maintenance building. It was empty, but I hoped there was a phone. I found the door. It was locked.
"Great," I said to myself as I began to pace. "Just perfect. Now, what am I supposed to do?"
I kicked at the door in frustration and it flew off the hinges, crashing on the far wall. My eyes went wide in surprise. Back in high school, I was the guy who got picked last for teams. Even if I was in a class with someone in a wheelchair.
Going in, I spotted a phone on a desk. I considered calling the police, but all things considered, decided that wasn't a good idea.
Picking up the phone, I dialed.
"Hello?" The familiar sound of my best friend's voice relaxed me.
"Max! Is that you?" Ollie sounded even more uptight than normal, which was no easy feat. Ollie was so uptight that if he swallowed coal, he'd shit out diamonds.
"Yeah, it's me." I sighed and leaned on the desk behind me. Just the sound of his squeaky voice made me relax.
"Where the blazes have you been?" His voice went up several octaves. "I've been going nuts looking for you. I was starting to think you were abducted by aliens."
"You've been gone for over a week," Ollie said.
"Wait," I interrupted. "I haven't been gone a week. I just saw you earlier tonight."
There was silence on the other end of the phone.
I could just picture my friend, with his neatly trimmed blonde hair and his shirt, tie and one of his trademark sweater vests. One of the greatest advantages of being best buds with Ollie was that when I stood next to him, I looked like the cool one.
"Max," He finally said. "I haven't seen you since last Friday. This Monday is Memorial Day."
"No," I said. "That's not right."
"Yes, it is," Ollie said. "I have been worried sick over this. I've been preparing flyers. I tried to go to the police, but… Well, it doesn't matter."
"Uh-huh," I said. "You tried to go to the police but my family wouldn't cooperate, right."
I heard Ollie sigh on the other end. "Your stepfather insisted you probably met a young lady and now that you were, and I quote, 'Getting some,' you won't surface until the 'chick in question' either got tired of you or grew some self-esteem."
"And he's said that for a week?" I asked. "And what about Mom?"
"She seemed concerned," Ollie offered. "But your stepfather insisted, and you know your mother."
"Yeah," I said, sourly. My mother was part doormat. "Whatever."
Ollie was silent for a moment as I stewed. I had been gone an entire week and Mom couldn't insist on talking to the police over my stepfather's wishes. She probably snuck into church to light a candle for me and hoped I wasn't allowing some bad girl to get me into trouble, all the while Jim, my stepfather was praying it was something more serious.
"Well," Ollie said. "The important thing is that you're okay."
"I'm not sure that I am," I said. "Listen, I have no idea what happened and I really think something's wrong with me. Can you come get me?"
"Certainly," Ollie said. "Just tell me where you are, and I'll dash off and rescue you."
"Um," I answered, realizing that this wasn't going to be as simple as I thought. "Not sure, hold on."
I looked around, trying to find something that would give my location. I spotted a map pinned to the wall the far wall, hanging in between a clipboard with papers and a string with a pen, and a Farside calendar. My eyes quickly scanned and read the map. It took me a few minutes to guess where I was, and only then because it was circled in red and words, 'You are here' were scrawled under it.
I gave the information to Ollie and as I did, it dawned on me that the map I was reading was across the room from me and I was seeing it at night, without any lights on, and without wearing my glasses. I was normally blind without my glasses.
"Holy crap," I said.
"What is it?" Ollie asked. "Did you just realize that you got a tattoo? Please tell me it's of the Tardis. You could use something to make you cooler."
I rolled my eyes. If there was anyone in the world that was less cool than me, it was Ollie. And if there was anyone less cool than Ollie, I'd love to meet them.
"No tattoo. At least I don't think so. I um…" I hesitated, not wanting to lie, but definitely not wanting to get into everything over the phone with Ollie. "I just realized I lost my glasses is all."
"I'll bring one of the backup pairs that I insisted you keep in the safe. Now, aren't you glad I talked you into them?" Thanks to Ollie, I had three backup pairs of glasses, each located in separate spots of the house.
"Oh it's not a bother," Ollie insisted. "In fact, it's already packed in the emergency kit we prepared together. Or did you forget?"
I had forgotten. Besides the spare glasses, he'd also made me load a black backpack with three days' worth of clothing, extra underwear, two toothbrushes, disposable eatery, five bottles of water, a compass, a battery-powered radio (with batteries in a separate compartment), a map of the local area, a flashlight, a flare, personal hygiene products, Q-tips, a bottle of aspirin, puzzle books, a sewing kit, a whistle, glow sticks, aluminum foil, a Spanish-English dictionary, granola bars, tablets to convert urine to drinking water (I know, yuck), and a pack of cigarettes, which was strange as neither of us smoked. In fact, Ollie was dead set against it. However, he felt they might be useful as currency if US tender was no longer valid.
"Excellent," He said, sounding a little too excited. I didn't care how thirsty I was, I was not using the tablets. "I'll be there soon. Let me just call — "
"No," I snapped, realizing what he was about to say. "Don't call anyone. And don't tell anyone you're coming to get me. Please."
Ollie was quiet for a moment. "Fine, although I can't understand why. By the way, your sister has been calling every day, twice a day to check on you. She, unlike your stepfather, is very worried."
He was talking about my half-sister, Allison. Allie was only twelve, but she was sweet and smart and everything I'm not. I hated to make her keep worrying, but I needed to know what was going on with me first.
"Don't call her," I insisted. "Please."
Ollie sighed and I could picture him with his arms crossed, his eyebrow arched and tapping his right foot as he pouted, but after a good three minutes of resistance, he reluctantly agreed.
Before we hung up, I could hear the unasked questions in his voice. Where had I really been? What had I been doing? If not a tattoo, did I get anything pierced?
I didn't look forward to when he actually asked those questions, mostly because I didn't have any answers.
I made my way towards the park entrance at a leisurely pace. It was going to take Ollie at least thirty minutes to get here, so I saw no reason to race through the forest as I had before. As I walked, I imagined how things would have gone down when Ollie talked to my family. My stepdad was never very fond of Ollie. Of course, Jim McBride didn't like me much either and I was his stepson. And he never let me forget the 'step' part.
I had gone away to college to get away from Jim. He and his two sons, Chuck and Chaz, who were the kind of bullies that have been giving me and my kind swirlies for all of nerd history.
Jim owned a hardware store and he hated to leave it for any reason, including a missing stepson who he never cared for.
I could just see him guilting Mom into not rushing down. She had never stood up for herself or anyone else. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that this was one of those times.
Allie was the one that broke my heart. She was a bright, bubbly twelve-year-old girl who tied the entire family together. Allie was the cool one at her school, but never treated me or Ollie badly.
I needed to figure out what was wrong with me before I went near her. What I nearly did to those people in that park could never happen to her.
That last thought echoed in my mind as I saw Ollie pull up in his green Scion.
What if I killed Ollie? What if he got out of his car and I ripped into his throat, spilling his blood over his sweater vest?
Ollie killed the engine and got out. "Max?"
Catching his scent, I felt the burning in my veins intensify and backed away quickly.
"Where are you going?" Ollie asked.
"Stay back," I said. "I might be dangerous."
Ollie nodded. "I already thought of that." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a surgical mask. "Lord knows what kind of bacteria and germs you've picked up over the last week while sowing your proverbial wild oats." He stepped closer, tsk-tsking me as he donned the surgical mask. "I can only imagine what you've been up to. Imbibing on adult beverages. Smoking those funny little cigarettes. Didn't I warn you that listening to that devil's music would lead you down a dark road?"
Ollie listened to classical music and Opera. He didn't like it when I listened to modern-day music. And by modern, I'm talking the Greatest Hits of the Monkees.
We'd been friends since childhood. He lived next door to me, although he was homeschooled by parents who suffered from extreme OCD. They'd passed their belief that stepping outside exposed you to pathogens and disease. He had no TV, and his home life was like a modern-day satire of 'Leave it to Beaver.'
I may have been a supreme nerd, but I was ultra-cool when near Ollie.
Still, he was the best friend a guy could ask for. I didn't want to kill him.
Okay, at that moment, a big part of me did, but I swear most of me didn't.
"I didn't go on a bender." I backed up a few more steps.
He paused as he snapped on a pair of surgical gloves. "Do you recall where you've been?"
"So how do you know you didn't disappear with a bottle of peppermint schnapps and try to do unnatural things with some young lass with severe self-esteem issues?" Ollie held his hands up in the air as if he'd just scrubbed for surgery. "Now let's go. Before we're attacked by a wild animal such as a bear or mountain lion or an owl." Ollie's eye darted around as he awaited attack from everywhere and everything. Except me.
I continued my retreat. "Ollie, I never should have called you. I think I'm dangerous."
Ollie rolled his eyes. "Unlikely. What's far more likely is that I'll contract something like malaria from a mosquito bite. Now let's go." He gave an exaggerated motion to the car.
I shook my head. "No. Ollie, I'm serious. I could kill you."
"Oh trust me," He responded. "You are killing me." Ollie began to scratch his arms, which were covered by his long sleeves. "I think I may have contracted a skin disease. Now please come get into the car. I covered it with a blanket. And a plastic cover. And a garbage bag. Now come on." He motioned me forward as if I was an incoming plane.
I shook my head.
"Max come." Ollie whistled at me like I was a dog. "Now."
I shook my head. "No, I never should have called you. Ollie, you better get out of here."
"I couldn't agree more." He continued to make a sweeping motion with his pointing, almost like he was practicing a golf swing. "Now get in the car."
I shook my head and took another step back despite the incredible desire to attack. I was starting to tremble with a burning desire to rip into Ollie's neck. My blood was on fire and I could feel the fangs in my mouth extending.
"I am not going to tell your sister that I found you and left you out here," Ollie said. "She'll beat me up. Again. Now come over here."
I refused to move so Ollie charged at me. I turned to run and smashed right into a tree. My arms spun around like windmills as I stumbled back several feet and fell on my ass
"See what happens?" Ollie said as he circled around to stand by my feet. "Now come on." He pulled out a handkerchief and placed it over his already gloved right hand before offering it to me.
"Ollie you don't understand."
Ollie raised an eyebrow as he looked down at me. "I'm not sure I want to. What I do understand is that while you're lying there suffering from delusions caused by whatever questionable substances you have injected, inhaled, ingested or otherwise indulged in, there's more of a chance of us being consumed by a coyote, or a beaver or even a... b… b… b…"
I rolled my eyes. "A bear?"
Ollie nodded. All color drained from his face and he screamed. "Bear!"
Following his gaze, I saw a big black bear come ambling out of the brush. It moved closer to Ollie's car.
Ollie froze, his finger pointed at the bear while his mouth hung open.
"Ollie, don't panic."
He started to make a high-pitched noise.
"Ollie, just stay still," I instructed while still on the ground. "Lower your eyes."
Instead, Ollie started to jump in place. "I'm going to die! I'm going to be eaten alive! I'm going to… agh…" Ollie started to point to his mouth as he choked. "I… Swallowed… A… Bug…"
The bear moved closer and reared up on its hind legs and roared.
Ollie screamed, more about the bug than anything else. "I can't have a bug be my last meal!"
The bear charged.
Instinct kicked in as the burning in my veins exploded. I leaped up and attacked the bear.
It slashed its claws at me, shredding my shirt but leaving me uninjured. I grabbed it paw and snapped it. The bear's jaws bit down on my neck, but its teeth couldn't penetrate my skin.
I reared my head back, felt my fangs extend, and returned the favor. Its blood gushed into my mouth and down my throat. The bear howled as it struggled to get away, but it was no match. Within a few moments, I had taken my fill. The burning in my veins was easing, but still present. I dropped the body of the animal at my feet.
Slowly I turned towards Ollie.
His face was a mixture of disbelief and terror, the bug he had swallowed was completely forgotten. Bringing his hands up, he crossed his two pointer fingers like a T.
"Stay back," Ollie demanded.
I put my hands up. "It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you."
The blood of the bear had quenched enough of my thirst that I felt I could control myself. At least for now.
"You stay away!"
I took a step closer. "Listen to me…"
Ollie pointed. "The bear is getting up!"
I spun around, ready to pounce. Ollie took that moment to shove me from behind. I fell to the ground as he ran for his car.
"Ollie!" I yelled.
But Ollie never looked back as he dove into his car and started the engine.
I sat there, stunned as I watched Ollie drive away. There was a part of me that thought I should just let him go, but I didn't want to be alone. I needed someone to help me figure this out and Ollie was the only friend I'd ever had.
I took off after him, thinking maybe I could cut through the woods and catch up. I burst through the trees and leaped over anything in my way. Instinct took over as I blazed my way through the foliage and found the road just as Ollie was passing. I could see the terror on his face. I ran after him.
"Ollie," I called. "Stop. It's okay."
He rolled his window down. "Okay? You just killed a bear! And you're running alongside my car while I'm going…" He looked down at his speedometer and gasped. "Good Lord, I'm going over ninety! Do you have any idea how dangerous this is?"
"So you can have me as dessert?" Ollie yelled. "No thank you and goodnight!"
Rolling up the window, he put his foot to the floor and his car hurtled ahead. I poured on the speed myself. I was going so fast, I couldn't even feel my feet pounding the road.
"Ollie," I pleaded as I caught up again. "It's me! Please. You know me!"
I watched his eyes scan me up and down. He rolled the window down again. "I never knew you could fly!"
I looked down and saw I was indeed flying alongside his car.
"Holy Crap," I yelled. I looked up just in time to see a giant boulder at the edge of the park. Ollie's car whipped by as I crashed into it, smashing it into smithereens. I rolled to a stop, covered in dust and pebbles awhile Ollie sped away.
Ollie pulled in front of his house. Ollie's parents had left him the house when they had died a few years ago. It was perfectly located for the two of us to live in while we went to college. Ollie's parents had also left him with plenty of money. They had become very wealthy over the years. He had always told me I didn't need to pay him rent, but I had always insisted. It was a nice home located on a private road.
He got out and started for his front door. Halfway there, he turned around and headed back to the car. He skidded to a stop and looked back and forth. He was clearly at war with himself as he winced in pain.
"Oh Max," He mumbled to himself. "I can't believe I left you out there."
"Yeah, me either." I trotted up towards him.
Relief flooded his face. "I'm sorry. It's just that…" He stopped as he remembered why he ran. "Ah!" He bolted for the door.
He fumbled with his keys, dropped them, cried as he felt around the front porch for them. Picking them up, he tried to unlock the door again.
I sped up the driveway, onto the porch, and grabbed the key in midair as he dropped it again.
"Ollie," I said. "It's alright. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm in control."
Ollie froze as he looked me over. "I need to sit."
I patted his back and slide the key in the keyhole. Turning it, I helped Ollie stand.
Ollie smiled as he gripped the door handle. "Thank you." He said as he turned the doorknob.
"No problem." I smiled.
"You're a good friend," Ollie said.
Ollie leaped inside his home.
"Ha!" He jabbed a finger at me. "Ha, ha, ha! You can't get me."
I rolled my eyes. "Ollie, I'm not trying to get you. I told you, I can control myself. It's okay."
I stepped forward to the open doorway and walked face-first into an invisible wall.
"What the…" I placed my hands on the unseen barrier and pushed. It was solid. More solid than the boulder I had shattered earlier. "Ollie? What's happening?"
Ollie came to the doorway but stayed just inside. He raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You don't know?"
I punched at the empty doorway and my knuckles made contact with the same invisible force. "No."
"Max," He said. "You can't enter a home without permission. You know what that means, don't you?"
I thought about it but shook my head. "No."
"Do you have a pulse?"
I placed my fingers under my neck to feel my jugular vein, but like earlier tonight, I felt nothing. "No."
"You've developed super speed, the ability to fly," Ollie continued. "And you killed that bear and drank its blood. Clearly, you must see what you've become."
I blinked rapidly, hoping that his words would start making sense. "Ollie please, it's been a long night. Can't you just spell it out for me?"
"Oh dear, this is awkward." Ollie crossed his arms and covered his mouth with his hand. "You really don't understand do you?"
"Maxwell Higgins you have become a vampire!"
I was stunned. Vampires didn't exist, did they? But I certainly existed. I went through everything in my mind. Waking up in a shallow grave, the need for blood, and the heightened abilities. It all made sense.
"I'm a vampire?"
Ollie nodded. "I'm afraid so. Sorry."
I took a step away from him. "But… but… I can't be a…"
"Vampire," Ollie supplied.
"Yeah," I said. "That can't be right. Vampires are cool. I'm not cool."
"No argument here."
"And they're only able to go out at night," I said. "I still use a nightlight."
Ollie nodded. "Ironically. it's a Batman nightlight."
I was pacing. "They're suave and cool. They seduce women into letting them bite them. I can't seduce a woman. I can't even talk to a girl. Just the other night, you and I were talking about how we were afraid we were both going to die virgins."
"Max," Ollie said. "I'm afraid you did die a virgin."
"Oh God," I said. "I'm… I'm… a…"
I sat down heavily on the front porch. "What am I going to do? I can't go home like this. I can't go anywhere. How the hell did this even happen to me?"
"You don't remember?" Ollie asked from just inside the doorway.
"No," I said. "Last thing I remember was going to the library. Alone. That was… well, it seemed like last night, but I guess it was a week or so ago. I'm pretty sure I got there. But I don't remember what happened after that."
I felt my neck. "Yeah. I've got fang marks here. I really am a…"
"Vampire. Undead. A creature of the night. A bloodsucking ghoul."
"Shut up Ollie!"
I collapsed on the stairs and started to sob. "Maybe I should just end it. The world doesn't need something like me in it."
"Hey don't talk like that," Ollie said.
"I mean it!" My voice cracked. Great, I was a wuss of a vampire too. "I'm not human anymore. I need to find a gun and a silver bullet."
Ollie sighed. "That's a werewolf, not a vampire."
I buried my head in my hands and wept. Ollie was right. I racked my brains, trying to remember how vampires were killed. Did I need to impale myself with a wooden stake? Or maybe I should just sit here and wait for the sun to come up and fry me.
My thoughts of self-destruction were interrupted when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
Looking up, Ollie stood there smiling. "It'll be okay. Why don't… Why don't you come inside? We'll talk."
After a moment's hesitation at the threshold of the door, I stepped inside. No unseen force kept me out. I looked over at the clock on the cable box and saw it was only ten minutes to eleven.
"I'm hungry," I said.
Ollie's eyes went wide and he clamped his hands around his neck.
"No," I assured him. "I'm hungry for food. Do vampires eat actual food?"
Slowly, Ollie relaxed. "Not sure. The lore differs depending on what you read. Hold on."
Ollie went into the kitchen. I could hear him going through a drawer. He came back in with a cordless phone and something else. "Look in this." He held out a small mirror for me.
I took it and examined my reflection. To my surprise, I had one. The face staring back at me wasn't the same one I'd gotten used to. My hair looked darker than normal and my eyes were now a dark blue. My skin was pale white and when I opened my mouth I could see fangs. They were retracted, but they were still more noticeable than my normal incisors.
"Do you see a reflection?" Ollie asked.
"You want a pizza?"
"Promise not to kill the pizza boy."
I placed the mirror on the coffee table and sat back on the couch with a sigh. "I promise."
Ollie considered me a moment. "Alright then. What do you want on your pizza?"
"You know how I like my pizza."
"I know how you used to like your pizza," Ollie countered. "That doesn't mean you still do. Now I can't get a bear topping, but they can do a meat-lover's pizza. I can ask for raw meat, but I don't think that they'll go for that. They'll worry about giving you salmonella and being sued. Not that it's likely someone like you could contract…"
"Just get our normal pizza!"
"Fine." Ollie started to dial. "Is it okay if I get an order of garlic knots too? Or is that something that will cause a bad reaction to someone in your… um… condition."
I glared at him.
Ollie wanted me to hide when the pizza was delivered. I wasn't sure if he just didn't want to have me seen in case I needed to stay missing or if he was really not sure if I could refrain from eating the pizza-guy. I took that moment to go shower and change while he pulled out the vacuum to clean up after all the dirt that had fallen off of me.
When the coast was clear, Ollie called me out to eat. We sat at the table and tore through the pizza, garlic knots, and Pepsi. Ollie had his laptop open in front of him and was searching the web while munching.
"Let's see now," He said in-between bites. "How to tell if you're a vampire."
"You're googling it?"
"Why not?" Ollie said. He cut a slice of pizza with a fork and knife. "Lots of hits too. Let's see. I guess you'd call these symptoms. What do you have? Desire to drink blood?"
I shrugged. Ollie leaned over and felt my head. "We'll say yes for that. Ditto on the paleness. No on the mirror reflection. Hold on a moment."
Ollie go up and went into the next room where I could hear him going through drawers. I helped myself to another slice, which I ate the proper way, with my hands. Ollie came back with one hand behind his back.
"Look at me," He said.
I looked up.
"Tell me if this hurts."
He brought his right hand around and held out a crucifix. I stared at it a few moments, but nothing happened. I shook my head.
Ollie looked at the cross in his hands and sighed. "Wasn't your biological father Jewish?"
"Yeah," I said. "Not that it mattered. He left when I was three. Why?"
"Oh just asking." Ollie reached into his pocket and pulled out a Jewish Star of David and held it out. "Anything?"
I looked at a moment before shaking my head. "Nope."
Ollie raised his eyebrows as he sat back down. He cut a garlic knot into neat quarters as he studied the screen again. "Sensitivity to sunlight. Well, we'll have to wait until morning. Maybe you'll be able to go out in the sun."
"I hope so," I said as I grabbed a garlic knot and tossed it into my mouth. "I just hope I don't friggin' sparkle. That would suck."
Ollie started to type on his computer again as he munched. "How are the garlic knots?"
"I've had better," I said.
We munched in silence for a bit. It seemed so normal, Ollie and I sitting up late at night on a weekend, nowhere to go and nothing to do. I was almost able to forget that there was a part of me that wanted to rip into his neck and suck every ounce of blood out of him.
"I think it's safe to assume," Ollie said, "that if you're now a vampire, then someone must have turned you. Have you been held for a week?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. I don't think so. When I came to or came back alive or whatever the hell it was I did, I was buried. Not deep. At least it didn't seem too deep. That's the first memory I have since this started."
Ollie tapped his fingers on the table. "So there's a good chance you were attacked and then buried. And you stayed there until tonight. Who was the last person you spoke to?"
I took a sip of soda as I considered the question. "Not sure. I remember talking to you as I was leaving."
Ollie nodded. "I was wishing you luck in your endeavor to ask out that girl."
"Cassie." I took a sip of Pepsi. She was a pretty redhead, with amazing green eyes. I'd been infatuated with her since the start of the semester, and it was possible that she liked me. Or at least, she hadn't rolled her eyes at me and snorted in derision whenever I got close to her. It was a start. I'd even caught her looking at me once or twice and I was positive it hadn't been because my fly was open. "And you weren't as much wishing me luck as much as you were predicting another crash and burn."
"Well?" Ollie asked. "Was I wrong?"
"I err…" I tried to remember, but that night was a blur. "I don't know."
"We'll just assume that it was," Ollie determined.
"What? I asked her if she saw you that night. She couldn't remember. So I have to conclude that, as difficult as it is to imagine, instead of asking her out as you've been trying to do for months, you once again sat across the room from her, surreptitiously sneaking glances all night until either she left or someone much cooler came along and engaged her in conversation."
The scenario Ollie had described certainly seemed familiar, but that didn't mean it had happened on the night I disappeared. It had happened several times before then.
"Maybe I didn't chicken out," I offered. "Maybe I never got to the library?"
Ollie shook his head. "No. Just because Cassie didn't remember you, doesn't mean nobody else did. You tripped in front of three pre-med students. You knocked over the cart of books that were being returned and the maintenance man said he stopped you coming out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your sneaker."
"Yeah well…" I said. I was pretty sure that my face would have flushed if I weren't undead.
Ollie went back to his laptop for a moment. He put in a new search. His face lit up as he read the results. "Now this is interesting. There are people out there who claim that vampires are real and that they can identify and hunt vampires."
"Well," I said. "We know they're real. I'm sitting right here. And we don't need someone to hunt me."
"No," Ollie said. "But they'd probably know more about real vampires than we do. And look. This one isn't too far away."
He turned the screen to face me. I saw the picture of an older man. He was mostly bald, with greyish ginger hair and a rather prominent nose. He wore glasses that framed his dark eyes.
"Simon Von Zot." I read off the page. "Vampire Hunter for over forty years. He talks about his desire to find and eradicate the monsters off of the face of the Earth. Says he's seen them up close more than once, but not many details."
"Well." Ollie pulled the laptop back. "He can't post that he's killed them, can he? After all, most people would assume he's a nutcase who had killed people and not bloodsuckers. No offense."
I rolled my eyes. "None taken. So what should we do?"
Ollie thought for a moment as he explored the site. "Maybe we should contact him. Pick his brain. Find out what he knows about the eternally damned. No offense."
"None taken," I said. "But what if he tries to, y'know, put a wooden stake through my heart."
"I can see how that would be off-putting," Ollie said. "But I think we need to go. We need to understand what's happened to you."
"Why?" I asked. "I feel fine. Maybe I just got a little stronger and I need to kill a bear or some other animal once or twice a month. Come Monday, I'll go back to classes. I'll say I went on a drunken bender and wound up in Vegas. That is if anyone bothers to ask."
Ollie sat back and looked at me. "I don't think that's a good idea. First off, you look different. It was harder to see before in the dark and while you were so dirty, but now that you've taken a shower I can see that your skin is paler. Your eyes are darker. You look more… dangerous."
"You're just saying that because you saw me kill Yogi and treat him like my own pic-a-nic basket."
"That's why I ran," Ollie countered. "I was scared. To be honest, I'm still a little spooked. I'm taking your word that you can control yourself."
"I can," I said. "I promise."
"That pleases me to no end." Ollie gave me a smile. "But can you sit there and tell me that you have no urge to kill me?"
I wanted to deny it, but that burning in my veins was still there. I was pretty sure I could keep it in check, but I was worried. What if I wasn't able to continue to control it?
"When do we go?" I said. Ollie understood what that meant.
"According to his site, he keeps night hours," Ollie said. "We can be there in an hour. I say, let's go."
We got up and headed for the door. "Thanks, Ollie."
Ollie smiled as we got into his car. "No problem. Just don't kill me."
"Stop complaining," Ollie said as we made our way up the highway. "And watch out for that exit."
"I'm looking for the exit," I replied. "I just wish I didn't have to do it while listening to this garbage."
"Garbage?" Ollie scowled, clearly offended. "This is Alexander Nevsky: The Battle on the Ice. It's glorious! And it's been around since twelve-forty-two. Something that should be important to you."
"Because you are now a member of the undead," He explained. "You're going to be around for centuries. Long after I've turned to dust, you'll still be here. Listening to what? Do you really think that in eight or nine hundred years people will still be listening to your crazy rock and roll."
"They better be."
"Well they won't," Ollie said. "You mark my words, by the time you're a thousand you won't be able to find any of that crazy hippie music on whatever kind of format they're listening to then. But this will last forever." He reached over to the dashboard and cranked the volume up.
I rolled my eyes and stuck my fingers in my ears. "You're killing me! Again."
Ollie gave me a slow grin as he hummed along. We drove for a few minutes without talking. I looked at the posts on the highway as they passed. Things looked different now than they used to. Despite the fact that we were going sixty-five, I could make out details on each signpost, each tree, even the far away buildings.
"So why haven't you asked Cassie out yet?" Ollie asked. "I mean, you clearly are attracted to her. You make her laugh. She knows who you are."
I squared my shoulders. "I was working up to it."
"For how long?"
"I don't know," I responded. "What the hell difference does it make now? It's not like I can ask her out. Face it, I'm going to die alone."
Ollie reached over and patted my arm.
"Now, now," He said. "You already did."
I glared at him.
"For what it's worth," Ollie said. "I think she likes you."
That made me smile a bit. "Why?"
"Because you've spent months hovering around her," Ollie answered. "Tripping, stuttering, bumping into walls, and in one most unfortunate incident where you drove your car into the school fountain."
"I remember," I said. "Your point?"
"She hasn't called the police on you yet," Ollie said. "In fact, just the fact that she doesn't run in the opposite direction tells me something."
Maybe Ollie had a point.
We arrived at the office of Simon Von Zot. It was a small, run-down workplace that had a nondescript entranceway. The only thing that made it stand out was the fact that it was the only place that had lights on.
"What if I can't go in?" I said.
Ollie hesitated for just a moment. "It's not a home. It's a place of business. Open to the public."
He held the door open for me. Nervously, I stepped through. Once I crossed the barrier, I smiled and strutted further into the office.
"Alright." Ollie rolled his eyes. "Nobody likes a dorky bloodsucker."
I did a little spin and nearly tripped.
We found Simon sitting at his desk, intently concentrating on some task. His desk was buried under tons of newspapers and journals, which were built up like a dam around him so we couldn't see what he was working on. We could barely see more than the top of his head.
The faint sounds of grunts would escape as he continued doing whatever he was doing. We waited for him to notice us, but he never looked up.
I glanced around the office. The walls were adorned with both art that depicted vampires on the attack, and an overabundance of mirrors. I was a little worried that the mirrors might not hold my reflection, but when I looked there I was.
Ollie cleared his throat to announce our presence.
"Excuse me," Ollie said. "Mr. Von Zot?"
He held up one finger above the stacks of books to tell us to wait. Whatever he was doing, it clearly was more important than we were at the moment. The small grunts got more frequent and there was a popping sound, almost like gunfire, but very faint.
Ollie and I exchanged glances. Slowly we approached his desk as we heard a low groan.
"Dammit," Simon said as he slapped some contraption down on the desk. "Stupid Zombies. That was worth full credit!"
Simon Von Zot shoved the small video game across his desk in frustration. Finally, he looked up at us. He was older than his picture on the internet. Any hints of ginger hair were gone. However, his eyes still looked young, and oddly familiar in a way that I couldn't place.
"College kids?" He asked.
We both nodded.
"Here on a scavenger hunt? To try and get into a fraternity so you have a chance of getting a girl to pay attention to you?"
"No sir," Ollie said.
"Good," Simon replied. "Because I could tell it would be a waste of time. Both mine and yours. What do you want?"
Ollie and I exchanged another worried glance.
Ollie cleared his throat. "We wanted to talk to you about vampires. Real vampires."
Simon sat back and regarded us skeptically. He tapped his finger on his eyes wandered back and forth between us and on occasion, it appeared like he was looking past us.
That was something neither of us thought to figure out before we came. Thankfully, Ollie was good at thinking on his feet. "We're curious. Young minds, looking to be filled with knowledge." He smiled.
Simon smiled. "Bullshit. Has something happened?"
Ollie froze, unsure of what to say.
"Maybe," I said. "What are the signs that someone we know might have become a vampire? And what happens if they do?"
"What happens?" Simon said. "Why usually, they kill you. If you have a friend that has become a vampire, you need to let me know. I'll deal with them."
I swallowed hard. "How?"
Simon grinned. "How do you think?" He got up and approached us. "I have been studying vampire since I was very young. Younger than the two of you, in fact. I was only twelve when I saw one of those bastards come into my home. I didn't know what it was at the time, but it had my mother enthralled. That's a sort of compulsion that they have. She let him in. At first, I thought he was just a suitor, but I found them. His teeth around her neck. Blood staining her dress."
He turned away from us and approached a painting on a wall. It depicted a dangerous-looking vampire; pale skin, bloody fangs, as the creature stood over a victim. A helpless young lady with terror on her face.
"I tried to kill the thing," Simon explained. "I attempted to slay it right there, but I didn't know-how. I ran for my father's gun. My father who had died under mysterious circumstances three years ago. I aimed it at the creature. My hand was unsteady, but in the end, my aim was true. One bullet pierced its skull."
He smiled in triumph as he recalled the memory. "It fell back. Crashing into a dresser. I ran to my mother's side. Her eyes locked with mine and she said one word. 'Run'. That's when I felt its cold hand grab me by the hair and throw me across the room. My mother screamed. The beast picked her up as I crawled across the floor. I managed to get my hand on the gun again. As I looked up to aim, I saw it bite down again. My mother stopped screaming as her eyes went back. She went limp. I realized then she was dead. The life's blood had been sucked out of her."
He walked across the room, and Ollie and I followed. He stopped before another wall that displayed several large portraits of a young family. In the main one, a young boy stood in front, displaying a toothy grin and red hair. I surmised that this was Simon as a young boy. He was positioned between his parents. There was a man with blonde hair, a handlebar mustache and a very prominent nose that looked a lot like Simon's. On the other side was a pretty redhead with a sweet, but sad smile. There was something about her face that seemed familiar. Maybe it was the look of indifference on her face in regards to her son in several of the portraits. Even in the ones of just her and Simon, the mother seemed disinterested in being there.
"I began to fire wildly," Simon said as he gazed up at his mother. "A few bullets hit her, but most hit him. If he were human, he'd be dead. All the way dead. But instead of killing it, I just angered the creature. I emptied the chamber and I was sure I was about to be killed. However, he left instead. He took my mother's body with him, no doubt to drain her of the rest of her blood."
He brushed his fingers on his mother's image before returning to his desk. "So you can understand that I've got plenty of reasons to hate them. I've studied the undead my entire life. I know their habits. Their weaknesses. I know how they live and how they die."
"Can you talk about that?" I asked. "I'm guessing that real vampires aren't the same as they are in the movies. Do they really have to stay away from sunlight? Can you really only kill them with a wooden stake through the heart?"
Simon smiled and indicated to Ollie and me to sit. As we did, he moved a few of the things in on his desk so we could see him. "Tea?" He asked.
Both Ollie and I nodded. Simon excused himself, turning around. He went into another room. We heard a few things bang about. A few minutes later, he returned and sat behind his desk.
"Many of the things in vampire lore and fiction are at least partially true," Simon said. "Some things are completely false. Vampires do not shrink away from symbols of God such as a crucifix or a Star of David. Garlic has no effect on them, except to make their breath smell bad. And they never, ever sparkle."
I couldn't help but feel relieved at that last revelation.
"Sunlight doesn't kill them," He continued. "But it weakens them. They are by nature nocturnal. They become most powerful at night. And the most hungry. I keep night hours and sleep during the day so as to keep on their schedule."
"Have you ever um…" I cleared my throat. "Killed any?"
Simon didn't answer. He just gazed at me as the whistle of a teapot filled the room. "Excuse me." He repeated.
As he got up, I looked over to Ollie. His eyes were wide. A few moments later, Simon returned with a tray. He placed in on the corner of his desk and proceeded to hand out cups of tea, which smelled like dirty socks, boiled in fish guts. Ollie and I grimaced, but wanting to be polite, we each took a sip.
"What else can you tell us?" I asked. "You have all these mirrors up. Does that mean that…?"
"Yes and no," Simon answered my unfinished question. "They're reflections fade when in bloodlust. They are exceptionally strong. Some have been known to shape-shift, fly, turn into smoke, or even turn invisible. It varies. Some can do all of those things, others can do none. They really can't enter your home without an invitation, and once you give it, you cannot take it back easily. Not unless you placed conditions on your invitation to begin with."
"Conditions?" Ollie asked.
"You may come in for a few moments," Simon said. "Or you can enter as long as you mean no harm. Something of that nature, that sets a specific boundary on their entrance into your home."
Ollie nodded. I could tell he was running the memory in his head of how he gave me permission to enter his house, trying to see if he had an out if needed.
"How do you kill them?" I asked as I sipped the tea.
Simon laughed. "You would think a stake through the heart based on fiction, but that's just the start."
Simon laughed. "Oh yes, you see, a stake through the heart stops them. It paralyzes them, but it doesn't kill them. For that, you have to cut off their heads." He made a slicing motion with his finger across his throat.
My hand went to my neck. I lowered it quickly, hoping that Simon hadn't caught the motion, however his eyes weren't on me, but on that faraway point beyond my shoulder. I forced myself to take another sip of tea, which tasted like an armpit after the gym.
"Vampires have many strengths," Simon continued. "But they also have weaknesses. They have blood lust. It is very difficult for a vampire to smell blood and not attack. They fear fire, for while they are nearly immune to all harm, fire will make them burn. No permanent harm will be done, but after a time, they get accustomed to being impervious to harm. Any sort of pain can be quite…" he smiled as he sipped his tea, "disconcerting."
I could only imagine. I still cried when I went to the doctor and they drew blood. I hated needles.
Simon placed his teacup down with a soft, ceramic tap and trained his eyes on me, and I made sure to keep perfectly still. I didn't want to give even the slightest hint that I was what he hunted. "And there's an herb called vervain that has an interesting effect on them."
"Oh?" Ollie leaned forwards, trying to appear casually interested. "Such as?"
Simon's eyes flickered to Ollie. "For one thing, if you're human, it prevents them from compelling you. It can even help break a compulsion already on you. If you're a vampire, one sip will temporarily rob them of their abilities. A little more and they become even more vulnerable. Weak even. Easy prey." He looked back to me, smiled slowly, in a way that made me feel very uneasy. "How is your tea?"
"My tea?" I said.
Simon smiled as he slowly reached into his drawer and drew out a small crossbow. He leveled it at my heart.
"Did you think that after all this time I wouldn't recognize you?" He asked.
Simon leaped to his feet, knocking his chair back. "Do not play stupid with me!"
"He's not playing," Ollie offered.
I wanted to say a sarcastic thanks, but my mouth wouldn't work.
"Fifty years is a long time," Simon said with a sinister snarl. "But I still remember. I remember you taking my mother from me. I have hunted you for my entire life. And now, after all these years, you come here! To me!"
Simon kept the business end of the crossbow directed at my heart.
"Sir," Ollie said as he started to rise. "I think you've made a mistake here. We should just go."
Simon smiled, graciously motioning towards the door. "Please do. Your friend can even leave first. If he can."
I tried to rise from the chair, but I couldn't move.
"Max," Ollie hissed at me. "We've taken up enough of this gentlemen's time. Say thank you and get up. Let's go."
My eyes darted to Ollie, back to Simon. I urged my muscles to move, but it was no use.
"It's alright," Simon said. "You're safe now. Drink your tea."
Ollie scowled down at his cup. "I don't want my damn tea!"
I knew it was bad if Ollie was cursing. He never cursed.
"Drink it," Simon insisted. "You'll see. The compulsion over you will fade. It probably has already. Drink."
"He's not the vampire that killed your mother," Ollie insisted. "You've made a mistake."
"Have I?" Simon retorted. "Then why won't he get up and leave?"
"Because…" Ollie looked at me with desperation. I could see him starting to sweat. Ollie never sweats. He finds it very distasteful. "Alright look!" Ollie yelled. He held up his cup and guzzled it, curling his nose in disgust. "Okay? Now listen. Yes, Max is a vampire. But he's not the one that killed your mother. We've been friends for years. We grew up together. This just happened to him. Just tonight."
Simon didn't look convinced. "I'm sure that he's convinced you of that. But Vampires live for thousands upon thousands of years. I remember him."
"No look," Ollie went into his back pocket. Pulling out his cell, he fumbled with it until he extracted a photo. I couldn't see it, but I knew what it was. A photo of Ollie and I, locked in combat with lightsabers at age nine. His mother had taken it. "This is us as kids. This is Max. We grew up together."
Simon looked at the photo, but he remained unconvinced. "Lies. He has convinced you that he is your friend."
I felt my finger twitch. Whatever it was that Simon had given me was starting to wear off.
"No," Ollie said. "I'm not under any compulsion. Look, look." Ollie grabbed my cup of tea which was mostly full. Scrunching his nose, he drank it down. "Would it kill you to add a little lemon or honey?" He put the second empty cup on Simon's desk. "I swear to you, my friend isn't the vampire that killed your mother. He hasn't killed anyone. We're just trying to figure out what happened and what to do from here."
Simon's eyes scanned us. He was beginning to have doubts. And I was able to wiggle my toes.
"He looks just like the monster from all those years ago."
"How many years?" Ollie asked. "You said you were twelve. Scared. How great of a look could you have gotten?"
Simon shook his head, dismissively. "If he's a newborn vampire, how is it you're alive. How is it he hasn't killed you?"
"Because we're friends," Ollie said back. "We've been friends since we were little kids. When nobody else would be my friend, Max was. My parents wouldn't even let me out of the house most days, afraid I'd contract some strange disease, but Max would come in. Wash down to my mother's satisfaction so we could play dungeons and dragons. When my parents were killed, Max was there for me. We have always been there for each other. And I know that there was a part of him that wanted to kill me, but he wouldn't. Not me." Ollie looked down at me. "Not ever."
Simon looked like he was relaxing a bit. "Perhaps you are correct." He pulled out a handkerchief, used it to wipe his brow. "It was a long time ago. Yet it still seems so clear to me. His dark hair. His grey eyes. The necklace that he wore. A black onyx tooth. I remember every detail as if it were yesterday."
If my heart still beat, I was sure that it would be bursting through my chest about now.
"Perhaps he isn't the vampire," Simon said. "But he's still a vampire. A creature that must kill to survive." He raised the crossbow again, leveling it at my heart. "And he needs to be destroyed."
Ollie held up his hands to make one final appeal, but he had nothing else to say.
Ollie dove across the table. Books and newspapers went crashing forward towards Simon. The crossbow fired, ripping through Ollie's shirt sleeve and missing me by inches.
Ollie and Simon disappeared behind Simon's desk. I could hear them shout and struggle. Someone hit the other one. Ollie screamed like a five-year-old girl who had their pigtails pulled. I wanted to get up and help, but I wasn't able to. My hands were shaking and my legs were trembling, but I still couldn't get out of the chair. I tried to rock myself. I tipped over and hit the ground.
I could see them from under the desk, still struggling, but I couldn't tell who was on top. Someone landed a punch. There was a moan.
I felt a wave of panic as whoever the victor was coming around the desk.
"C'mon," Ollie said. "Let's get out of here."
Ollie reached down and started to pull me up.
"Are you able to move at all?"
"Little bit," I said. "Getting… better."
"Good," Ollie said. "Because you're heavy."
Somehow I managed a snort.
"M'snot," I managed. "You're just… a wimp."
In my mind, Ollie was anything but. He'd saved me. And he had to put his hands on another person while not wearing gloves to do it. I'd never forget that.
Ollie stiffened and brought us to a halt.
With a sigh, Ollie turned. I found myself able to move with him. My mobility was returning quickly. I was able to stand on my own.
Simon was on his feet, in front of his desk. He was holding the crossbow again. This time it was pointed at Ollie.
"Step away from the vampire," Simon commanded.
Ollie shook his head. "No."
"Move," Simon repeated. "Or I'll kill the both of you. These arrows are meant for the undead, but they work just as well on the living."
Ollie stood defiant. "I don't care. You're not killing him. It's not his fault."
"No," Simon agreed. "It's not. If what you tell me is true, then he is not at fault from becoming a monster. But then this is an act of mercy. Let me end your friend's dark existence before he kills. Let me destroy the beast he has become before he spreads the evil to another. Do you think he wishes to spend a millennium living in the shadows, feeding on humans while anyone he manages not to kill grows old and dies before him?"
"Maybe there's a cure," Ollie said. "Maybe he can be helped. I don't know."
"I do," I said. I shoved Ollie away from me.
Ollie crashed down on a small table.
"No," I said. "I'm not about to let you die because of me. I don't know what happened, but maybe he's right. The last thing I want to live with is someone else's blood on my hands. I don't want to be responsible for anyone's death. Including yours." I turned to Simon. "Let him go."
Simon considered my words for a moment before nodding. He motioned to the door with the crossbow.
"Go," I told Ollie.
"No," Ollie said. "What am I going to tell your family?"
I actually laughed. "They won't care. My mother will cry for a little bit, but then she'll get busy cooking for Jim and the boys."
"What about Allie?"
The image of my half-sister filled my mind. She would mourn. She'd miss me. But she'd move on and be better off without me.
"Just do it," I yelled.
Simon nodded and aimed.
"Wait!" Ollie struggled to get up. "Let me say goodbye."
I looked towards Ollie. My friend who risked his life for me. His right hand reached for his shoulder as he started to cross to me.
My veins ignited. I felt like I was on fire from the inside out. I could feel my fangs bare as I looked towards my friend. He was bleeding. I saw my reflection fade in a nearby mirror.
"Move away," Simon ordered. "He's going to attack."
"What?" Ollie said. "Why would he…" Then he saw my eyes go black. He followed my gaze to his bloody arm. "Oh darn."
"You see," Simon said. "You see what he is. A devil in disguise. Now he must be destroyed."
The smell of blood had driven the remaining effects of vervain in my system. My vampire abilities had kicked back in. Everything that happened seemed like slow motion. Simon stepped forward, aiming his crossbow right at my chest. Ollie yelled for him to stop and dove forward. Simon released the arrow. It was headed straight to Ollie's heart.
I rushed forward, swerving around Ollie and grabbing the arrow out of the air. Ollie crashed to the floor at my feet. I snapped the arrow in two.
Ollie looked up at me, slowly realizing what I had done. My veins were still on fire, but my friend was safe. And I was going to keep him that way.
I threw the broken arrow to the ground and moved on Simon. Swiping away his crossbow, I grabbed him by the lapel. "You could have killed him."
Simon looked at me with terror. He moaned in fear as I lifted him off the ground.
"I could kill you," I said. "But I'm not going to."
I dropped Simon into his chair roughly and went to Ollie's side. I extended my hand. "C'mon. Let's go home."
Ollie took my hand and I pulled him to his feet. He smiled as we headed for the door.
"Oh and one more thing Mr. Von Zot," Ollie turned to say something to Simon, but whatever it was I never found out. His eyes widened and he grabbed my arm. "Max."
I turned around. Simon was leaning back in his chair, clutching his heart.
In an instant, I was back by Simon's side.
"Come to finish me, vampire?" Simon hissed. "Attack while I'm weak?"
Sighing, I gently scooped Simon up into my arms like he was a pale sheet. "Let's get him to the hospital."
We rushed him through the door and to Ollie's car.
There was a hospital only a few blocks away from Simon's office. Ollie had gone in. I had decided to get home by myself, running and sometimes flying until I had reached the front door. I didn't think I was ready to be in a hospital quite yet, where I would be barraged with the scent of blood.
My blood still burned as I made my way through the deserted streets, but I was feeling more confident in my ability to not hurt anyone. I passed by several homeless people, a few young couples out on the town, and a pair of police officers. I was aware of the blood in their veins but didn't make any more to hurt them.
I was relieved to find I could enter the house without a problem. I sat on the couch, chomped at the cold pizza leftovers, and distracted myself with an old Batman movie. The final credits were just about to roll when Ollie came in through the front door carrying a paper bag.
"How is he?" I asked.
Ollie shrugged. "I think he'll be okay. Here, I picked something up for you." He reached into a bag and pulled out a plastic pouch of blood. "I swiped it."
I couldn't smell the blood in the sealed bag, but I felt my fangs start to jab out at the sight of it, and my mouth watered.
"Oh for crying out loud, put those things away and use a glass." Ollie went into the kitchen. I followed to find him cutting the bag open and pouring its contents into a large glass. I stiffened at the scent of blood but kept myself in the doorway to the kitchen until Ollie had gotten all of it out. He handed it to me and nodded. "Salut."
I brought the blood to my mouth, winced as my fangs banged against the glass, and drank. Each drop helped ease the burning in my veins. By the time I was done, I felt pretty normal.
"I can't believe how good that is." I used a straw to get the last few drops. "I don't suppose you were able to get more?"
"One." Ollie pulled a second bag out of the bag. "I thought we'd put it in the fridge for a day or so. I think I might be able to get additional blood soon."
I nodded. "I can control it. I just have to work on it. It helps to remember that any potential victims are people."
"Good to know," Ollie said as he brought the second bag into the kitchen. He placed it inside behind the milk and Jell-O. "I'm sorry. Going to see Simon was my idea."
"And it was a good idea." I used my finger to try and get the last of the blood out, secretly amused when Ollie pulled the glass away and brought it to the sink. "No way could we have known he'd go all Buffy on me."
"I suppose not." Ollie pulled on large, yellow rubber gloves and began to scrub the glass. "Rotten luck, you look like the vampire that killed his mother. What are the chances of that?"
I waited until he pulled finished washing the glass, and placed it in the dishwasher. "About that. I want to show you something."
Ollie pulled off the yellow gloves, laid them over the faucet, and followed me into my bedroom. "Are you still comfortable in your bed or should we be looking into other options. Perhaps something in mahogany with a velvet exterior. Or did you want a basic pine box?"
I flipped him the bird and sat on the edge of the bed. In the middle of my comforter sat an old photo album. "I took this when I moved out. My mom never looks at it. It's all pictures from when I was young. Look, here's a picture of my mom and dad."
Ollie looked at it. "Okay. What do you care? He disappeared when you were five."
"Look at the thing around his neck."
Ollie picked up the album and examined in closely. I saw the moment when he realized what I was showing him. My father wore a necklace with a black onyx tooth on it. "You think that was the necklace Simon saw?"
I shrugged. "Maybe. I want to say it was a family heirloom, but I could be wrong. It's been a while since I've talked to anyone about it."
Ollie frowned and examined the photo carefully. My father matched the description of what Simon had given, but so did a lot of people.
Ollie shook his head and glanced up at me. "But your father was human when he left. That was only 15 years ago. Simon's mother was attacked when your father would have been a child. Besides," Ollie studied to picture again, "you don't look that much like him. I mean, you're both thin with dark hair, but he had a larger build."
But it was close enough to make me wonder. I was about to say that when the doorbell rang.
"Stay here," Ollie said.
I sat on my bed as Ollie closed my door behind him as he went to see who was at the door. We still hadn't figured out the best way to deal with what had happened to me. Even if I could be sure not to kill anyone, there was still the issue of explaining to people how I never would age.
I concentrated on the sound of Ollie's footsteps going downstairs. I could hear the swish of his corduroy pants, the gentle beat of his heat, and the creak of the steps. As he went, I mentally reviewed everything that Simon had told us.
I heard the door open. "Oh hey Cassie," Ollie said. "What are you doing here this late?"
Cassie was here? I listened closer, smelling her perfume, hearing the jingle of her dangling earrings.
"I'm sorry," Cassie said. I could hear her feet shift in place on the front porch, the creak of the door as Ollie opened it wider. "It's just that I didn't know where else to go. It's about Max. Can I come in?"
I heard Ollie swallow hard. "I suppose for a few minutes."
I burst through my door and flew down the stairs.
"Ollie!" I smashed down on the landing in less than a second, but I was too late.
Cassie stepped inside, saw me and smiled.
And I saw her fangs.
In one swift, fluid motion, she grabbed Ollie and forced him to his knees. She bared her teeth and prepared to rip out his throat.
"No," I pleaded. "Leave him alone. Please."
She laughed and cut his neck with a single fingernail. He began to bleed and I felt my fangs jut out in my mouth, felt the familiar burning in my blood.
Ollie whimpered as she sampled his blood. "So good, the blood of a virgin." She held out her finger to me. "You must want a taste, no?"
Could I body slam her away from Ollie, without hurting him? If I was off by a second, she'd snap Ollie's neck.
Cassie smiled. "I'm impressed. You can smell his blood, taste it in the air. You've managed to learn to control your hunger in a very short time. Some vampires take centuries before they can manage not to slaughter someone who is bleeding. Some newborns have to be put down because they're out of control."
"Max?" Ollie said.
"She's a vampire," I said.
"I figured that much out for myself, thank you," Ollie said.
I rolled my eyes. "She's the vampire. The one that turned me and buried me in a shallow grave. She killed me."
"Oh please don't be so dramatic," Cassie said casually. "I only buried you so nobody would find you. To give you a chance to be reborn. Not everyone does, y'know. Not all humans can survive turning, but it looks like you made it through alright. You look good. Let's have a toast." Her fangs came out even more as she started to lower herself to Ollie's neck.
"No," I said. "You don't want to hurt Ollie. Please."
"Why not?" Cassie asked. "He's nothing to me. Just a human."
"He's more than that."
Cassie laughed. "What is he then? Your friend? That was the old way of thinking. Now he's food. Nothing more."
I took a step forward. "He helped me to save your son."
Her fangs retracted a touch. "Simon?"
"Yes," I said. "We went to see Simon last night. He's on the internet, you know. A vampire hunter. He thought I was the vampire that killed you years ago. He has no idea you're a vampire yourself, does he?"
With a hiss, she dropped Ollie roughly on the floor. He landed with a thud and he started to crawl away, but Cassie put her foot on his back, knocking him down. All she had to do was press down hard and she'd snap his spine.
Cassie didn't look at him, or me. "No. And he's better that way. You tried to kill my son?" She snarled at me.
"Me?" I raised my hands. "No. He wanted to kill me. He tried to, but he had a heart attack."
Cassie's hand shot up to her mouth. She let up on Ollie who scampered away.
"My baby? Is he okay?"
Ollie wheezed from the floor. "They think he's going to be fine. He was resting comfortably when I left him in the hospital."
She lifted her foot and let Ollie escape.
I helped him up and shoved him behind me.
"Who was it that changed you?" I asked. "My father?"
Cassie shook her head. "No. Your grandfather. We had been lovers. And he had no use for his life as a husband and father. He and I had been having an affair when he was changed. He too managed to learn to control his bloodlust. Not before killing off nearly a dozen men, but he did get the hang of it. Once he did, he sought me out. I begged him to change me. And he did."
"Leaving Simon alone," I said.
Cassie shrugged. "Simon was better off without me. I was never a good mother. But I still loved him. I hate the fact that he's wasting his life hunting our kind, but he's not very good at it. I spread the word to my brethren. We kept our distance. We even let him think he got one or two of us. It was amusing. Not like some of the other hunters out there."
I nodded, trying to buy as much time as needed. "What happened to my grandfather?"
"Killed," Cassie said. "About thirty years ago. Broke my heart. I even tried to replace him."
"With my father?"
Cassie smiled. "Yes. But he didn't stay long. I guess that runs in the family."
"And that's why you turned me," I said.
"I couldn't believe it when I first saw you," Cassie said. "You look even more like your grandfather than your father did. You're even named after him. I just had to have you."
"Well," I said. "Too bad. I want nothing to do with you. And I think your few moments are up."
Cassie frowned. An invisible force took ahold of her and pulled her through the front door. Ollie and I went to the threshold. She was lying in a heap on the porch. Slowly, she rose up.
"Clever," She said. "But I suppose I owe you both for Simon. Why don't you come with me, Max? We could have some good times."
"Go with you?" I said. "You killed me! Why would I go with you?"
Cassie threw her head back and cackled. "Because you need to be around your own kind. Humans get boring after a while. Especially as they grow old and die. And I can be an awful lot of fun."
I shook my head. "I don't think so. Not now. Not ever."
Cassie shrugged. "You say that now, but give it time. After all, I've got eternity to wait for you."
She smiled seductively as her eyes flashed a dark red. A swirl of black smoke enveloped her. It swirled quickly, shrinking in scope and size. There was a flash and a humongous bat appeared. It shrieked in place before it zipped into the night.
I looked towards Ollie who was pointing to the door. "You should learn that."
In the morning, Ollie found me sitting on the back porch. He carried two coffee mugs with him. My heightened sense of smell could tell one was filled with coffee with French Vanilla creamer while the other had blood. He handed the one with the blood to me.
"You haven't burst into flames." He took the seat next to me. "That's a good sign."
"I was pleased," I said. "The burning of hunger isn't as bad, but it's there. I took a run in the backyard. I'm still faster than a human. Still stronger." I indicated several tree trunks cut into firewood in the yard. "I managed to juggle them. Until I dropped one on my foot."
Ollie laughed. "I called the hospital. Talked to Simon. He's doing okay. He said to thank you. He said he'd heard about vampires that don't kill, but he never believed it until last night." Ollie took the chair next to me. "Should we tell him the truth about his mother?"
I shook my head as I sipped the blood. "No. What good would that do?"
Ollie hid his face behind his coffee. He was uncomfortable with the idea of deceit, but as he didn't seem to have a better answer, he let it lie. "And what do we do with you?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. I don't think it's smart to go back to my family. My stepfather will never let me into the house. And I can't take a chance I'd hurt Allie. I'm confident that I can control it, but not positive." I looked over to Ollie. "I need to go."
"I don't know," I answered. "I just need to disappear. To stay away from people. From you."
"Me?" Ollie sat up quickly, stunned. "Why?"
"Are you kidding me?" I responded. "You're not safe around me. Think about it. In my first night as a vampire, you were nearly mauled by a bear, shot by a crossbow-wielding old man, and sucked dry by the same vampire who turned me into a creature of the night to replace my bloodsucker of a grandfather. Not to mention the fact that there's a part of me that wouldn't mind noshing on you myself."
Ollie held up a finger. "Ah, but you didn't. In fact, you saved my life. From the bear, the crossbow-wielding old man, and the vampire. You can do this. And I can help. I have plenty of money. I can manage to get my hands on more blood."
"Do you really want to keep risking your life for me?"
Ollie shrugged. "Why not? You'd do it for me, wouldn't you?"
I smiled. "You know I would."
"Good," Ollie said. "Besides, I'm turning twenty-one in a month. You and I were going to hit the bars together. Can vampires get drunk?"
"Don't know," I said. "But I guess we're going to find out."
We clinked our mugs and sat back.
"By the way," Ollie said. "There's a Star Trek Marathon on tonight. You in?"
"Are you kidding me?" I said. "I'm the biggest nerd in all of the vampire world."