Die Now or Live Forever (2 page)

BOOK: Die Now or Live Forever
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Ruby felt faint. She put a hand to her head, which ached, and found it sweaty and hot, though she felt cold.

‘I think I need to eat something,’ she said. ‘I’m feeling a bit weak.’

‘Me too,’ said Omar. ‘What have we got?’

‘Tinned beans, bread, apples, cheese, biscuits, tinned tuna, salted peanuts, cereal bars.’

‘Do we have any more tinned sausages?’ asked Alistair. ‘I feel ill. I want sausages.’

‘No, we don’t – you’ve eaten them all.’ Ruby realised she would prefer sausages, too, even though they were horrid.

Ava’s eyes flickered over them all; Finn still held his knife, ready. She looked at the food Ruby had spilled out of the bag and that no one wanted to eat.

‘Want some?’ asked Omar. She nodded. He tore off some bread and passed it to her, broke off a piece of cheese, and tossed her a bottle of water. They all watched her eat.

At last, Alistair chewed a bit of bread himself. He didn’t eat much. The others picked at cheese, biscuits and nuts, nibbling, not really wanting it.

‘Aren’t you lot hungry?’ asked Ava. Her voice was anxious. That annoyed Finn. What did it matter to her if they ate or not?

‘No. Shut up and eat if you want to.’

Behind him, Alistair was sick onto the grass. Ava gasped.

‘Wassup? Not seen a kid puke before?’

She said nothing.

‘Finn,’ called Ruby. ‘I don’t feel well either.’

Ava blanched. ‘It’s … it’s what happened to Nathan. And then …’

‘And then you nailed him to the ground, as I recall,’ said Finn. ‘Well, you won’t do that to us.’

He walked towards her, holding his knife out.

‘No, I’ll look after you,’ she said quickly. ‘He just went mad at me. I don’t know why. It won’t be like that.’

‘How do we know that? You’re a nutter. If we’re sick and you still have your little packet of tent pegs … No. Not happening.’

‘Then what
is
happening?’ asked Juliette. Ruby was already being violently sick.

‘We’ll tie her up,’ said Omar. ‘And when we’re better, we’ll take her with us and hand her over to the police. Fair, Ava?’

‘NO! You can’t tie me up! And you can’t hand me over to the police. What will they do with me? This isn’t even a civilised country.’

‘Oh, I’m sure they’ll be very interested to hear
that view. This is the EU: you’ll get a fair trial. And, hey – you
did
kill him.’

While Omar was talking, Finn dodged round behind Ava. Now when she turned to run, he grabbed her and pulled her to the ground. Omar and Juliette were onto her in a moment.

‘You’re going nowhere!’ shouted Finn, pulling her arms so far up behind her back that she screamed in pain.

Finn and Omar dragged Ava to a tree, ripped off their leather belts and strapped her to the trunk. Juliette unhitched a guy-rope from one of the tents – good, strong, nylon cord – and they tied her with that, too. Omar took Juliette’s hair scrunchy and wound it round Ava’s wrists behind the tree. All the time Ava screamed at them, then
cried, pleaded and begged.

As soon as she was secure, Omar staggered away and threw up. Alistair had passed out, face down in the grass with vomit around him. Ruby dragged him onto his side, but that was all she could do.

Juliette touched Ruby’s hair.

‘I feel OK-ish. I’ll try to find help, or at least get somewhere there’s a phone signal. I’ll be back. Don’t worry.’

Omar pulled a map from his bag.

‘Here. Take this. Mark where we are. Take my phone – it has a compass app. Be safe.’

Juliette stuffed the map and phone into her backpack, grabbed a bottle of water and pushed a
hand over her damp forehead. She picked up a dropped sweater and set off along the beach. Going round the lake seemed the best bet – there was a car park a few kilometres further on.

Omar watched her go, then slumped down with his back against a tree.

‘What if you all die?’ Ava screamed. ‘What will happen to me? I’ll starve. You can’t do this!’

Finn spat a mouthful of vomit onto the grass.

‘We won’t die. We’re just a bit sick.’

‘Nathan died.’

‘He died because you nailed him to the floor! And do you think we
care
what happens to you if we die? Ha! Maybe you’ll be eaten by wolves. Who knows? Who cares? You freak!’

Finn was the last to pass out.

‘No,’ Ava whispered to no one, into the silent forest. ‘No, he didn’t.’

The hours dragged by. It was much colder at night than in the daytime. Ava shivered and struggled, but there was no way to work herself free. The belts cut into her ankles and her neck, and the nylon rope squeezed her waist and chest.

She had given up crying. There was no one to hear; just four bodies sprawled on the ground. She hoped there was no one to hear.

Just before sunrise, she heard something. Not only the sounds there had been all night – the owls that wailed like ghosts and the twigs snapping under the feet of goodness-knows-what. It was closer, repeated. Shuffling, and then a footstep. And another. The soft, muffled sound of footsteps over sand.

Ava froze. Not again.

‘Alistair? Ruby? Are you OK?’ It was Omar. Ruby groaned.

‘I feel awful. What happened?’ asked Ruby. She shook Alistair. ‘Where’s Finn?’

‘Still out cold.’ Omar bent over Finn’s slumped shape. ‘Oh God. He’s not breathing!’ His voice rose in panic.

‘Does anyone know how to do that thing to start people’s hearts and make them breathe?’

‘CPR,’ said Alistair. ‘I still feel funny.’ No one knew how to do it. Ruby noticed Ava – they’d forgotten her.

‘Do you know it?’ Ruby asked. Ava shook her head. She looked pale and terrified. Ruby squinted at her in the grey half-light.

‘What are you so scared of? We aren’t going to hurt you. We tied you up so that you didn’t hurt us.’

‘It happened to Nathan. Like this – like Finn.’

‘What did? Nathan wasn’t dead until you killed him. And if he
was
dead, you didn’t need to nail him, did you?’

Behind her, Omar leaned on Finn’s chest, trying to remember what he’d seen in a hundred episodes of
Emergency!
on TV.

‘Be careful,’ said Alistair, ‘You might hurt him if you do it wrong.’

‘He’s dead, Alistair. I can’t really hurt him any more than that, can I?’

‘I’m not breathing, either.’

‘What? Of course you’re breathing. You can’t talk without breathing.’

‘Look. I’m not breathing like before.’

‘Not now, Alistair. I’ve got to help Finn.’

Omar took his hands off Finn’s chest, waited a moment, leaned on it again. What came next? Get
some air into him, of course. That mouth-
to-mouth
thing. Eugh. He took a deep breath – and immediately his head was spinning. He felt as though he would explode. He let it out quickly. He tried again, a normal breath – and even that seemed strange.

‘Alistair – what was that you said about breathing?’

‘I don’t breathe – or hardly. Look.’

‘Are you holding your breath?’

‘No! Test your own breathing.’

It was true; they were all taking very shallow breaths, barely noticeable.

‘So maybe he’s not dead,’ said Omar at last.

‘I have a funny taste in my mouth,’ Alistair
said. ‘And I really, really want some meat.’

‘Not now,’ said Ruby, helping Omar to revive Finn.

Finn’s eyelids flickered, and soon he looked up at her. It only took a couple of minutes before he sat up, ran his fingers through his hair and said, ‘Yeah, me too. Meat.’

They hunted again through their food bag, but there was nothing they wanted. Finn noticed Ava, shrinking back against the tree she was tied to, willing him not to see her. He looked at her, and something stirred in his stomach. He grinned – a nasty, threatening grin.

Omar sat back, now that Finn was clearly alive, and followed his gaze. His eyes settled on Ava.

He hadn’t really looked at her before – not
really
looked. Now he saw her long, brown legs, streaked with dry blood that was so dark red it was almost brown. She had scratched them crawling through the brambles, but that didn’t make them any less attractive. With her arms pulled back and tied behind her, behind the tree, her chest jutted out – even more so because the nylon cord around her body pulled her shirt tight against her. Her throat and chest were exposed between the leather belt and the unbuttoned shirt.

Omar couldn’t take his eyes off her. At first she had looked away, but realising that wouldn’t stop him staring at her, she now looked straight into his eyes. Involuntarily, he parted his lips. They were dry. He licked them once.

Her blue eyes held his gaze and her defiance challenged him. Or was it defiance? Perhaps she felt it too, this sudden, compelling attraction. He was irresistibly drawn to her.

He walked over to the tree, stopped just in front of her and looked for a long, long time. His eyes pulled to her bare, blood-smeared thighs again. He liked a girl who was active, not prissy about her clothes, had a spirit of adventure.

He looked at her face again, and into her eyes. There was something there he didn’t recognise at first, but found deeply alluring. He wanted to remove the belt, to see her throat properly. He really wanted to do that, he realised. He looked back at her eyes and saw what it was. Fear.

A thrill ran though him. She was desperately
afraid of him but struggling not to show it. Her pupils were wide – so wide he felt sucked into them. He moved closer. He loved the rush it gave him that she was so scared, he didn’t pause to think that this was not like him, not what he wanted to be at all. He moved closer and she grew more afraid. He would have to kiss her – he couldn’t help himself. He would kiss her so hard she would bleed and he would carry on kissing her, so that the blood ran into his mouth, and …

Suddenly he had his hands on her shoulders and the others were at his side.

‘What are you doing?’ Finn, tried to push him, hard. Ruby looked confused. She was twisting her hands together and she, too, licked her lips. Why was this girl, scruffy and scared, suddenly so magnetic? Even Ruby couldn’t look away from her.

Ava tried to face down Omar, but she couldn’t cope with all of them.

Ava started to squirm and shout. As she struggled, the leather belt cut into her neck and a trickle of blood ran from under the buckle.

Omar put his finger to the blood and then raised it slowly, teasingly, to his lips. He felt his head explode with desire and pushed his mouth towards Ava’s lips, even as she twisted away.

‘Stop!’

Omar froze. It wasn’t Finn, or Alistair. It was a deep, rich male voice. It took all of Omar’s will power to pull himself back from Ava’s struggling body and turn round. He was shaking and weak with frustration.

They all turned at the same time. Two figures were outlined against the sunlight glinting off the
lake. One was Juliette. The other, holding her hand, was a tall man, dressed in black. He had olive skin and was astonishingly handsome. He looked late-thirties, like a film star. His black hair was tousled, with only one or two streaks of grey. He looked totally relaxed, as though commanding the four of them was nothing to him and he had absolute confidence that they would obey him. And they did.

‘What is happening here?’

His accent was mid-European, but there was something else to his voice, something quite hypnotic.

Omar didn’t know what to say. He had no idea why the desire to kiss her had been so strong, why he’d needed to put his mouth to hers and taste her blood on his tongue – but even thinking
about it made him want it again. He was ashamed, confused – and yet he wasn’t. The feeling was stronger than shame; he didn’t even care why he wanted to do it.

‘We need her.’ It was Finn.

‘So I see.’ The man folded his hands in front of him, as relaxed as could be. ‘But you’re not going to have her. Untie her.’

‘But she’ll escape,’ said Finn. ‘And she’s a psycho killer. She –’

‘I know. I’ve seen the boy. But she will neither run nor hurt you. Untie her.’

Omar watched Finn and Ruby remove the cord and the belts. He saw Ava reach up to rub her neck; two red lines ran across it. His longing to
touch her, especially the wounds, was suffocating.

‘Tell me why you attacked the boy,’ the man said to Ava.

‘He tried to kill me. He fell ill and then he went crazy and wanted to bite me. He got more ill and he died. I swear – he died.’

‘Then why did you nail him to the floor?’ shouted Finn.

‘Because he came back! He started to get up again. He opened his eyes and looked into mine and I could see he still wanted to kill me. I was so terrified. The hammer was there beside him, and the tent pegs. It was all I had.

‘I tried to stab him with a tent peg and he roared and reached out to grab me. I hit him over
the head with the mallet, and then I hammered a peg tent through his chest. It was all I could do.

‘He would have killed me, I swear he would. I can’t believe I did it. I can’t believe he wanted to kill me. We loved each other – we were so happy.’ Crying took her over completely.

‘Who bit him?’ the stranger asked.

Ava did not appear to hear him, but carried on sobbing.

‘Who bit all of you?’

They were confused.

‘No one bit us,’ said Finn. ‘Why would anyone bite us?’

‘You were going to bite
her
– weren’t you?’

Omar realised he was. ‘Yes.’

‘So – you were bitten. Who by?’

‘We weren’t bitten by anyone,’ said Alistair. ‘Only by mosquitoes. They aren’t an
anyone
, are they?’

‘Mosquitoes?’ The stranger seemed taken aback for the first time. ‘That’s impossible.’

‘No, it’s not. Everyone gets bitten by mosquitoes. There are lots here.’

‘Yes, but mosquitoes don’t do this to you.’

‘Do what?’ asked Ruby.

‘Some were strange mosquitoes,’ Alistair went on. ‘Big ones. I have one – I squashed it. Do you want to see?’

‘Not now, Alistair,’ Ruby whispered, reaching out towards him.

‘Let him speak,’ the man said. ‘Did you keep the mosquito you squashed?’

‘Yes, it’s in my book. Do you want to see?’ he asked again.

‘I think that might be a good idea. Why did you keep it?’

‘I like things like that. Things that are unusual. I know about insects. I can remember science things.’

‘Good lad. Me too.’ The man smiled, a slightly crooked smile that didn’t show his teeth. ‘May I see your mosquito sample?’

Ruby was impressed at how he treated Alistair
– not as a freak, like everyone else did. That word, ‘sample’ – he was taking it seriously, treating Alistair like a scientist. She warmed to him, whoever he was.

‘I wasn’t bitten,’ said Ava suddenly. ‘Nathan was. But I wasn’t. So I didn’t fall ill.’

‘Why weren’t you bitten?’

‘Mosquito repellant. I hate mosquitoes so I always use repellant.’

‘Sounds like it was a good idea on this occasion.’ The man took Ruby’s arm and looked at some of the mosquito bites.

‘Who are you?’ she asked.

‘Forgive me – how rude. I am Ignace; my other names – vary.’

‘Do you live around here?’

‘You could say that. And you?’

‘I’m Ruby and this is my brother Alistair. Omar, Finn. And Ava. I see you’ve met Juliette already.’ Juliette had not spoken for the whole time.

‘Do you have any idea what has happened to you?’ Ignace asked.

Ruby shook her head.

‘Then this will come as a bit of a shock, I’m afraid. You might find it difficult to believe. You seem – though I don’t really understand how this can have happened – to have been exposed to … a virus. You have become vampires. Don’t say anything. I know, it sounds impossible.’

‘Yeah, right,’ said Finn. ‘Pull the other one. There’s no such thing as vampires. This place is just crawling with nutters! First her, and now you!’

‘I know it must seem like that. But look at the evidence. You don’t appear to be breathing; you don’t want to eat anything, except
her
. You only want to eat her, incidentally, because you can tell she’s not one of us. She’s a
blood
, and you can smell it.’

Ava looked horrified, shook her head.

‘Excuse me, I know it’s not polite. We would never normally call you that to your face. Bloods are very attractive to our kind. It is a struggle to resist the urge. But it must be resisted. You must learn how. It is my job to teach you how.’

‘You’re a nutcase. You think we’re going to take vampire lessons from some creep who wanders around a Hungarian forest?’

‘It’s cool!’ said Alistair. ‘Can we fly and turn into bats and that?’

‘Don’t be stupid!’ snapped Finn. ‘That stuff’s not real. Of course you’re not a vampire.’

‘No, you can’t fly or turn into a bat. That’s just in the movies. You will get the urge to suck blood from people and you must subdue it at all costs. You can eat bloody meat or take special capsules. You must not bite human beings. That passes on vampirism which is not cool, by the way – it is a curse, a terrible curse.’

‘It doesn’t sound too bad,’ pondered Omar. ‘Live forever, can’t die except by staking. Plenty of
time to achieve your ambitions.’

‘Have you really thought about living forever?’ asked Ignace. ‘Living after all your family and friends are dead? Watching the world change around you until it is unrecognisable? You can’t begin to understand the meaning of ‘lonely’ until you have lost everyone you ever loved. Finding new people to love every generation, and losing them again, and again, and again.’

‘You want us to feel
sorry
for you?’ Ruby couldn’t believe it. ‘You – if you really are a vampire – you destroy people, turn
them
into vampires. If it’s so awful, why would you inflict it on anyone else?’

‘Hunger. And loneliness. Vampires used to prey on those they loved to keep them, to drag them
into eternity, because they couldn’t bear to lose them. It doesn’t happen now. We have rules.’

‘Oh, so you’ve become all wishy-washy and compassionate? Huh.’ Finn flicked a fly off his arm. ‘Look, I’m even talking as though you exist. It’s all rubbish!’

‘Not compassionate. It’s self-preservation. There were purges and hundreds of vampires were destroyed. Now we’re careful. It’s good that no one believes in us any more. We keep a low profile and so we survive. There are no bands of vampire hunters staking us, cutting our heads off, driving us out of our spaces. If you have truly become vampires – and I believe you have – you’ll need to learn our ways.’

‘We’ve just spent seventeen years being told
what to do by our parents and teachers and we’re done with it. We aren’t taking it from you and your kind, whoever or whatever you are,’ said Omar.

‘Fine. I’ll leave you to tent-peg girl, then. Solves my problem.’

Ignace picked up Ava’s bag of tent pegs and tossed it to her.

‘Feel free. Oh, and get it right this time.’

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