It wasn't glamorous. The books got that all wrong. It wasn't utterly soul-crushing and life-destroying. They got that wrong, too. It was ugly and inconvenient and confusing. But these were ugly, inconvenient, confusing times. Things still had a way of working out, because people had ways of making things work. It was one of humanity's good traits, she thought.
It was five hours before the nightly curfew, but it was already dark. The streets were caked in a grey slush, and the air maybe didn't feel as cold as it had the same time last year. Dreary, disappointing December. Christmas hadn't quite descended over everything, aside from a few especially eager yards. An evergreen tree in a lawn ahead of her was decked out in bulb ornaments and glittering crosses, with a big star at the top. She took a turn before she passed it.
She started jogging down the sidewalk, kicking up the slush as she went. She breathed in deeply, and the cool air was invigorating. She wasn't in the best shape of her life, but she still felt great as she arrived at the local butcher's shop. The man behind the counter nodded as she stepped in. He was an unassuming, plain-looking man, and that had always struck her as just slightly odd. The platonic ideal of a butcher was bigger, more colorful, she thought.
"Here for the usual, I'm guessing." She nodded in return, walking up to the counter. "You got it. This diet's been going pretty well." He nodded. "Uh-huh. Well, I'm behind on all the latest health crazes, but I'm always glad to get people the good food they want. Plus, it's nice to get some actual use out of the damn certificate, hah." She laughed a bit in response, and then he went and got her order together. She paid and headed out after a short goodbye. She didn't jog the way back, walking and humming to herself as she did.
Once home, she put most of the packages away in the fridge. The last one she instead poured into a bowl, which she set in her microwave. It came out piping hot, although still raw. She took the bowl in both hands, and took a long sip. Then she tipped it back and swallowed the rest. A little bit of the blood trickled down the corner of her mouth, and she licked it up. She took the bowl to the sink and washed it very thoroughly, before going to the bathroom. She let herself savor the rich taste for a few more moments, before getting her toothbrush.
She focused on her tongue and gums, but eventually moved on to her teeth. They were short and sharp, both at their points and along their edges. Where her upper canines should have been, she had two fangs. They were longer, slender, and curved like a snake's. She gargled water to try to get the mint taste out of her mouth, and didn't succeed. She spent a minute making faces in the mirror, none of which made her teeth look pleasant. She sighed, and went to lay down on her bed. She was always lethargic after a meal, but at least that wasn't a new development.
She stared up at her ceiling for a little while. She had turned the lights off, and nothing snuck in from the heavy curtains she had on every window. The nightlight by her bed shed enough light to see by. She wasn't quite tired enough to drift off, and she contemplated her life, as it was. It wasn't like in the books or the movies or even the folklore, not really. No, there wasn't anything she could use as an instruction manual for being a vampire.
It hurt. It really, really hurt. It hurt enough to make her scream past the hand clamped over her mouth. She tried to pull away but it only worsened the pain, tugging her neck against the sharp points. She tried to go limp instead, gritting her teeth and squeezing her eyes shut to channel the tension elsewhere. She put her fists into balls, and her nails broke the skin. She wasn't sure how long she managed to hold herself like that before she screamed again, which turned into choked sobbing. She couldn't help but attempt to squirm away, and flinched at the spike of pain as she did. She drove her elbow into the thing holding her with as much force as she could, and used the pain that brought as motivation to do it again, and again, and a fourth time that finally made the thing recoil.
She staggered forward, and placed a hand on her neck. It came away slick with blood, and she forced herself to run forward. She didn't make it very far before collapsing onto her knees, clamping her hand back onto her neck. She fought an urge to vomit, and failed. Her vision started to swim, and she looked up to see something looming over her. It had a blank face, as though pallid skin had been draped over a skull and pulled taut. The jaw opened wider, and the skin stretched, caving inwards and starting to tear as a row of points pierced through. With an awful noise, the circle of skin was pulled inwards and down the thing's throat. It had no lips but the roughly torn scraps of skin, and ring upon ring of triangular teeth lined its gullet.
It was wrong. It was an affront to her eyes, but it was wrong. She reached down, and scooped up a handful of the ground. The sidewalk crumbled between her fingers like a clump of dirt, and she hurled it at the thing. It flinched back and hissed. She looked at her hand, and it wasn't covered in blood anymore. She looked back at the thing. It wasn't what had bit her. It was just some stupid monster. She stood up, and it shrank away. The surroundings grew hazier, the thing slithered off, and she woke up.
Emma sat up in bed, and looked down at her hands. It was unfair that she could still dream but they were almost always nightmares. And that one had started off with a memory she didn't want to relive, before it went off the rails. Nothing had been there when she looked up from her knees. The creature that bit her had just left, even though she barely ran away. It didn't go back to finish its meal or to kill her. The person hadn't gone back to explain or apologize. They just left her there to cope and piece together what had happened to her. It would have been difficult to despise them more than she did.
She kept thinking about them, whoever they were, as some creature. Like the monster from the dream, she guessed. But she was the same kind of thing, now. Whether it intended to turn her or not, it had. They had. He had? She hadn't managed to get a good look, in the struggle. She massaged her neck. It felt important to remember that it was a person. A creature was the way it was, for better or worse. She was the same kind of thing as what bit her, now. But she was better.
She had no guidance or assistance with it. No mentorship from her 'sire', or anything else. And she hadn't hurt anyone! It had been weeks, now, and she had her cravings well under control. Working from home really helped her deal with the new rigors of her schedule, and the season didn't hurt either. Her social life had suffered, but it would have anyways. Ugly, confusing, convenient times, in a way. Maybe she was a monster, but she wasn't going to live her life as a predator. At worst, at the absolute worst, she would be a parasite.
She was starving. Not literally, at least she didn't think. She couldn't fall asleep however long she had her eyes shut, and her stomach ached. She had her daily amount of blood already. She should have been fine, but one bowl just hadn't been enough to sate her. She had tried to scarf down a box of chicken-flavored crackers, but if anything they only made it worse. She kept some nonperishable food around the house, in case she had to entertain a guest and not look absolutely insane. Normal food didn't taste of ash in her mouth, but it was growing less and less palatable with time and apparently not filling.
Reluctantly, she got out of bed, and went to get a bowl. She did her best to spot half of a bag, and put the rest in a Tupperware container. Was that going to stain it? Oh well. She heated the half bowl for a little less time than normal. It came out hotter than usual, but she didn't have the willpower to watch it cool. She gulped it down, and the heat glided down her tongue and coiled in her stomach. She crawled back to her bed, and fell asleep quickly amid a lovely feeling of warmth and softness. She had pleasant dreams, which she couldn't quite remember.
"You're back ahead of schedule. Wanted to try something new?" The butcher smiled at her, from the way his cheeks and eyes moved. She smiled back, but shook her head. "No, actually. I'm still sticking to my diet, although I've had to adjust it a little. I actually wanted to order more blood. Up to the usual amount, if you have it." He was quiet for a moment, looking at her with poorly concealed concern. "Yeah, I can do that, but... I'm not a nutritionist, and I don't know what your magical diet here is, but I don't imagine it's healthy. And you don't look like you need to be on a diet. Sorry, I'm being rude." She felt embarrassed, but no heat rose to her cheeks. "No, it's okay. I understand it's strange. But it's a lifestyle change sort of thing, not a fad diet. And not looking my healthiest ever is part of why I'm adjusting it. I need to eat more. Yeah?" He nodded, and quickly excused himself to get her order. He apologized again afterwards, but she said it was okay.
She meant it, too. It was a small town. Not so small that everyone knew everyone else, but enough to have a sense of community. People were nice, but that wasn't always the same thing as being polite. She could appreciate well-intentioned frankness, even from a relative stranger. It was helpful, too. She had to look bad. She trudged her way along the familiar path back home, through fresh snow that had actually stuck for once. The winter chill was getting to her despite all the layers. When she got home, she put the blood away, and curled up on her bed.
She was still cold. Her fingers had warmed up, at least, but the stack of blankets did nothing for the rest of her. She tried to give it time, but it wasn't working. Raising the thermostat temperature didn't help, either. She glanced over at her fridge and felt a pang of hunger. She groaned, and shoved her face into her pillow instead.
It was freezing. It felt like her coat wasn't doing anything as she was buffeted by an icy gale. It stung the top half of her face, and whipped snow around everywhere. She could hardly see as she ambled forward. She left deep tracks, and her toes were starting to numb. She looked over and saw a child bundled up in an almost comical amount of layers. They were shaping a snow sculpture, which looked like a snowman that had been toppled over. The child was working on the biggest ball at one end of it, several other balls lined up, each getting a little smaller as they went. She eyed it as she walked along the sidewalk. It stretched on for quite a while, longer than she had thought at first, but she reached the end.
The last ball made the head of the thing. It didn't have button eyes or a carrot nose, but a round hole of a mouth had been crudely dug out of it. She admired the effort that had clearly gone into it for a few moments, then turned back forward. She looked down when the wind struck her face, and she saw the snow sculpture shift. Then it moved, lurching forward. It wrapped around her leg and crawled higher, twining its way around her as she staggered. The snow was falling, crumbling, sloughing off to reveal glistening, pale skin. The massive worm slithered across her shoulder, coiled around her neck, and inched up to her face. Its head was eyeless and dominated by a large mouth, a perfect circle studded with pointed teeth. She could see down its throat, where more teeth jutted out irregularly like spikes.
She tried to squirm and pull it off of herself, but it clung on, looped all around her. The head was pointed at hers for a few long seconds, and despite its lack of eyes she felt like it was regarding her. And then it turned, peeling off and stretching out into the air before looping back to her neck. Her eyes followed the motion, and she noticed the child there, staring at her. Their eyes were wide in what looked like abject horror, the visible fraction of their face bright red from the cold. A pang of pain hit her stomach, and she realized she was starving. Ravenously hungry and bitterly cold, and staring at the flush of food and warmth behind someone's skin. She turned her head away.
The worm wrenched her head back around to look at the child, its weight twisting her neck. She started walking forward as fast as she could manage, almost tripping several times. The kid was out of sight, and the worm let her face forwards again. She took a second to breathe deeply, then another pang of hunger and pain hit her. She clutched at her stomach, and the thing started writhing and twisting, the coils moving as it slipped around her. Someone else stumbled out of the obscuring snow ahead of her, with a rosy face and no hat. She shut her eyes and balled her fists as he passed. He bumped into her and mumbled an apology and she somehow heard his heart beating as he did. That faded into the thing around her neck hissing in her ear, and she almost doubled over when a third hunger pang struck. She blinked tears out of her eyes, and the stranger went to steady her. His heart was pounding in her ears.
She looked up at him, and mumbled thanks, before freezing. That hideous worm was loosely coiled around his neck, now. He didn't seem to notice, looking at her with concern. She grabbed it and dug her nails into its slippery, rubbery hide. Her nails broke skin, the thing screamed, and pulled back to her. The man stepped back, and she tore her gaze away from him. Hunger struck again, and she sank to her knees, but didn't release her grip on the monster. It hissed and wailed and writhed in her hands, and then finally slipped free. Her nails gouged its side as it doubled back to her neck. It bit her and started to burrow into the spot of her old wounds, and she woke up screaming.
She had broken into a cold sweat, and apparently thrown the covers off of herself in her sleep. She felt ice cold, and a pang of hunger jarred her fully awake. She went to her fridge and hastily prepared a bowl of blood. She tapped her foot as the microwave went, salivating as she watched the bowl turn and turn. When it was done, she greedily gulped it down, feeling the warmth and relief settle in her core. But not as much of it as she hoped. She sighed, and then got out another bag. She needed to figure something else out.
Emma was pacing back and forth. It was early, although the sun had already set. She was nervous, and kept checking her phone. No change. She slipped back into her bathroom, and glanced at the mirror. She could still see her reflection, but it wasn't a reassuring sight. She was thinner, and thought she almost looked gaunt. Her skin wasn't pale, but it looked like it lacked warmth. It was hard to place, and she wasn't sure how much of the difference she was imagining. The teeth she knew weren't her imagination. They were a healthy shade of white, for all that mattered. She put her face mask back on, and while she didn't look good, at least she looked human.
She glanced at her phone again. Still nothing. She sighed, and finally forced herself to just sit down and wait. It wasn't that much longer before her friend arrived. He was wearing a face mask with a cartoon bear snout on it, but she could tell he was smiling. It had been a while since she had spent any time with friends, and the casual interaction wound up going on longer than she had originally intended. But she was glad for it. Grover was kind and funny and... and... "Emma?" She blinked, looking up to her friend jokingly snapping at her. "Oh, sorry. I zoned out there. You were saying?" "I, uh, wasn't. We hit a lull and then you started staring." He laughed, and she did too, but she could feel how it was awkward. "Oops. Well, I guess this is as good a time as any. There's something I need to tell you, although I'm not sure how to word it."
Grover made a face at that, and she was glad she couldn't see all of it. "Right. Well, uh, Emma. I like you, but not..." He trailed off, looking over at the wall. She was quiet for a moment, and then started laughing. It was too hard, too long, but she couldn't help herself. He almost looked hurt when she stifled it. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I guess that is probably what this sounded like, and that's really not laughable. It's just, the contrast between that, and..."
She took a deep breath. "This is going to sound insane. I don't mean 'Haha, how crazy'. I mean it is going to make me look genuinely crazy. Please promise me you'll try to bare with me, okay?"
He looked confused, but nodded. "Okay. I promise. I really don't think it's going to sound crazy, but I'll listen even if it does."
"Thank you." She took another deep breath. "I'm a vampire."
The tension was really sucked out of the moment by the way he started laughing. She couldn't blame him, but it stung. "Wow, okay, I really wasn't expecting a joke. What did you actually want to say? Um." He went quiet for a moment when he noticed the look on her face. "Oh."
Slowly, she pulled off her face mask. She opened her mouth and smiled. He swallowed, his eyes fixed on her fangs. She tugged her collar aside, so he could look over and see the scarred over bite marks on her shoulder and neck. She stood up, then, and went to her fridge. "Yeah. I imagine you'll need a moment. It took me a while to come to terms with this. I mean, it's ridiculous, right? Vampires?" She pulled out a bag of blood, and poured it into a bowl. She started setting the microwave. "It's been several weeks, now. I've been living, or I guess unliving, off of blood from the butcher's. I guess you need a special license to sell that? Good thing he had one. Somebody else likes to buy it for black sausage or something."
"Right. Okay. So vampires are real. Jesus Christ. Uh. Can I say that? That's not some kind of curse to you, is it?" She shook her head, cracking a big dumb smile. She noticed him wince a little in response, and shut her mouth.
"It didn't seem like it, anyways. I haven't exactly been testing out the vampire weaknesses. I've been steering clear of crosses, but I don't know if I need to. I know I can go places without being invited, and I show up in mirrors, and if I bit someone it would not be sexy." He snickered at that, and she let herself relax a bit. The microwave beeped, she took the bowl out, and turned her back to him to drink it. That just felt polite.
"Yeah, I guess I wouldn't want to be the one to eat some garlic and see if it's poison, either. I feel like that kinda shit is something someone's supposed to tell you. ...How did this happen? Other than that you got bit." He had an odd tone in his voice that she couldn't quite place.
"It's not a great story, unfortunately. Something grabbed me from behind and bit me. I managed to struggle away, and it didn't follow. Didn't finish the meal, didn't offer orientation. I don't know if I'm a vampire because it didn't finish drinking me or if it was trying to make me one. I really don't want to find out how that works. I wouldn't want anyone else to deal with this. And I definitely don't want to hurt people."
"Well, fuck. That's not good. I mean, at least the monster bit you, right? I mean, uh. Fuck, I don't know, this doesn't feel real. It's like a big joke. I'm in denial, I guess. It feels really weird. What I meant is you aren't going to go around all Dracula and biting people. And that's a good thing." He laughed, but sounded uneasy.
"Right. I'm never going to bite anyone. But... I didn't ask you over just to get this off my chest. Although it has really helped. It's just that, um..." She finally turned around then, to look him in the eyes. "The pork blood? It's not really doing it for me anymore. It sates me less and less every time. I'm not going to be able to afford enough to keep this up indefinitely. I think I might need human blood, really. Maybe it will be the same diminishing returns, but maybe not. But to try that, I... need a donor. That's what I'm asking. Not to bite you, but to do controlled bloodletting somehow— Yeah. Okay." She laughed a little bit, but it rang hollow.
Her friend was looking at her with horror in his eyes. She swallowed, trying to keep up the faux cheerful composure. "Did it start to sink in? Fuck, I'm sorry. I won't ask something like that of you, it was stupid. I..." She licked her bottom lip, and tasted blood. "Oh." She swallowed, and backed up. "Shit. I'm so sorry, this is... I'll be in my bedroom. You can get me if you need me or leave when you're ready, I..." She didn't know how to finish, and scurried off to her room. She heard him leave not that long afterwards.
It wasn't sustainable. She twined her hands into her black hair and looked up at her ceiling. It didn't offer any insight or assistance, as the microwave went off again. She slowly downed the blood this time, trying to savor it, as if that might help increase its effect. It didn't. She was almost out of blood, and still hungry. She sighed, and then more or less whined, and went over to slump into a seat. This was it. She had exhausted all the options she could bring herself to take. She exhaled, and opened her mouth to mutter to herself. "Okay, fuck. I did my best. I had a good time." She frowned. That wasn't really as cathartic to say as she had hoped.
She glanced at her phone's clock. 3:03 AM. It wouldn't take that long. She opened up her computer, and queued up a few stupid silly videos. She rummaged around to find a notebook and a pen, and started thinking over how to word everything. After a moment's thought, she went to her bathroom to take some pictures in the mirror. Then she opened up her curtains. It wasn't a bad view, and it would be nice to maybe enjoy it one more time. She set her affairs in order as best as she could. Would anyone even believe it? What would they think, if not? But there wasn't really any point to contemplating that, so she turned to the videos. They made for a good distraction.
The last video had ended a little bit before sunrise was supposed to come. She took a deep breath, and turned her gaze outside. A little bit later, light started to spread across the sky. It was beautiful, in a way a sunrise hadn't ever struck her as before. She put a hand on her chest, and could feel her aberrant heart beating fast. It didn't take much longer for the sun itself to start to crest over the horizon. Daybreak filled her with awe, and she watched the sun's graceful ascent with rapt attention, the tableau of colors in the sky. And finally, it was all over. The sun was hanging high in a blue sky, and she was still there.
Her home was full of light. Natural light that was bright and vivid and reaching out towards every corner. It was warm against her skin, but almost ephemeral; it couldn't seep into her core. It was a reminder of how things had once been, but a relief she couldn't have. She was cold and dead and empty, a hollow, leeching thing. She didn't want to be, but she knew it was what she was and all she could ever be, now. It had been a realization that was profound in a way she couldn't properly put to words. She didn't want to go on with a parasitic existence, but she couldn't bring herself to end it.
Watching the sunrise had been one thing. It was passive. She could wait and let herself end. But doing it herself? That was just too much. She didn't have the will, and dreaded the thought that an attempt might fail. It was existentially terrifying in its own right, and it could cause worse things. If her attempt to prevent a total loss of control brought that very thing about, that would be just too cruel. And so she couldn't try that. And she couldn't give in to her growing urges and hurt someone. She would never do that. And she couldn't wait and do nothing and break and lash out on instinct. She couldn't allow that.
It was an odd feeling. It was paradoxically freeing to know she was in a situation with no outs. There was nothing she could do that would work. So she could simply do nothing. And that would bring about something she couldn't allow, but wouldn't any other course of action? She knew it was wrong, but it tempted her still. There was some perverse comfort or solace in the concept. If she simply gave up, things would be okay, even though they wouldn't. Giving up wouldn't help her, and only worsen every problem she faced, but it still felt like a solution. She made a noise of frustration, and stomped into the bathroom.
She looked into the mirror, and a face stared back. It had eyes like hers, but cold and dull. It had hair like hers, but long and unkempt. It had skin like hers, but lacking in vitality and color. It had a shape like hers, but lean and angular. It had lips like hers, but thin and caked in dried blood. It had teeth like concentric rings of spikes studding her mouth and throat.
When she woke up, light wasn't streaming in through her windows. She felt dazed, and walked over to her fridge. Something made a noise under her foot, and she looked down to see a bag of blood, bitten into and torn open. It made her stomach rumble, but the fridge was empty. She picked it up and stuffed it in the trash, trying to remember when she had done that. The microwave clock read 11:13, and so it was too late to get more. Or go out and do anything, considering the curfew. She padded into the bathroom, and grabbed her toothbrush from behind the mirror. Then she stared at her long fangs and sharp teeth, and decided she couldn't be bothered. She got dressed, and after a moment threw on a jacket, too.
She stepped into her shoes without any socks, and opened her door. The night air didn't feel any colder than her living room, and she stepped out. She shut the door behind her, and then kicked a pile of slush. She ambled out along her familiar route, not entirely sure of why. It simply felt right, and it was a nice night. More houses had Christmas lights up. She walked up to the tree with all the crosses, and then past it. She laughed a little to herself, and kicked a pile of slush so it scattered on the road. She wasn't heading to the butcher's anymore, but it still felt right. She wasn't sure why.
Eventually she came to one of the roads in and out of town. She looked along it, and saw someone else not too far from her. A woman with a heavy black coat. She started walking towards her without really thinking about it. As she got closer, she saw the lady was white, with long, straight black hair and a pierced face. She lazily waved, and gave a closed-mouth smile. The woman waved back, with a nervous smile. Emma kept walking up to her, stepping closer than she was supposed to, even as the woman backed away. She offered a wide smile to reassure her, and leaned in closer to the inviting face that was so strangely marred by worry and fear, and was yanked backwards.
Another woman with black hair had a hold of her shoulder. She hadn't noticed her, before. Something felt off, and Emma blinked. It was almost like things were coming back into focus. The woman who had her shoulder looked at her critically. "Another one, huh?"