Authors: Anne Rooney
With thanks to Hannah Frew, Mary Hoffman,
Darren Shan and Shahrukh Husain.
Juliette, Omar, Finn, Ruby and Alistair find a dead body in the forest …
… Twenty-four hours later, they tie the murderer, Ava, to a tree, as one by one they fall sick …
… When they wake, they are vampires, and that murderer looks rather appealing …
… Mysterious nobleman Ignace, 400 years old and more sophisticated than is good for him, prevents them snacking on her …
… But that dead body isn’t as dead as it looked …
… They go to Ignace’s castle for a crash-course in being a modern vampire.
And so their adventures begin.
is Ava’s story …
Ava hit the ground and rolled, the freezing snow bringing her quickly to her senses. Tyres squealed.
It took her a moment to sit up, brush the snow from her face and look around. The car that had dumped her was gone. No one looked at her. She struggled to her feet, feeling dazed and bruised, and knocked more snow from her coat. It was a fur coat – not hers. She looked down. Her feet were snug in Ugg boots, and they weren’t hers
either. Thoughts swam into her head:
Where am I? How did I get here?
One hand clenched something tightly. She opened her fist and looked at a hotel key – a real key with a heavy fob engraved ‘Hotel Star Pristina’.
What’s this? What’s going on?
She could see the hotel the other side of the road. She stumbled, hurt and confused, over the road to the hotel entrance and showed the key to a doorman, who said something she didn’t understand.
At reception, a woman with bleached hair and thick glasses looked up and said something that again Ava didn’t understand.
Ava showed her the key.
‘Ah, we’ve been expecting you,’ the woman said in English. ‘Your room is ready. Your – er, friend – has paid in advance. You’ve been unwell, I hear. Do you have luggage?’
Ava shook her head, and it hurt. Where were her things? All the stuff she had brought to Europe? She had no idea. The woman looked her up and down – disapproving, Ava thought – then led her upstairs to her room.
‘Here.’ The woman opened the door, then stalked off.
The room was large and comfortable – and there were her clothes, neatly folded on the bed, along with some new, warm things that suited the weather.
Where am I?
Ava pulled the heavy velvet curtains shut against the snow and flopped onto the bed, suddenly tired. Within seconds she was asleep – a long, dreamless sleep that lasted until the next afternoon.
* * * * *
When Ava woke, she felt groggy and empty. When had she last eaten? She didn’t know.
An image flashed into her mind. A tray of food, a room in an old castle. She hadn’t wanted the food, even though it was really good food. Was it Ignace’s castle in Hungary? She didn’t think so.
She wasn’t really hungry, just empty. It was a strange feeling, but quite pleasant. She thought eating would make her sick.
She found a street map on the desk – Pristina,
That must be where I am,
In Kosovo! But how? Why?
She suspected Ignace had something to do with it. That fleeting image – she tried to bring it back – was he anywhere in it? She thought she saw … someone. Omar – was that possible?
Ava wrapped herself in the fur coat and headed out into the street. She trudged through snow and slush, past people who kept their heads down.
At dusk she came to a bleak park. The snow was grey here, and churned into rucks and ridges. A group of trailers huddled in a clearing between the trees. They were dejected, with peeling paint and cracked wood. No one was around – it was far too cold to be out – but smoke curled from blackened tin flues.
Crude pictures on the trailers showed trapeze artists, clowns, a tiger.
It’s a circus,
But pitched in Kosovo in the winter – it must be the worst circus in the world!
She would have steered clear a few months ago, afraid of the tough, gypsy types and their fierce dogs. Now she talked herself out of being scared.
‘I’ve been attacked by vampires, dragged to a vampire castle, left alone in Prague, then – then something I don’t even remember,’ she said aloud to herself. ‘What’s the point in worrying? If something happens, I’ll cope.’
She walked between the dingy trailers. Something strange and compelling pulled her forwards, despite her fear. She followed the feeling, and it caught in her throat. Excitement.
Why? I don’t
even like circuses,
she thought. But it was something more basic, in her gut. Hunger. But unlike any hunger she’d felt before.
Ava stopped where the feeling was strongest, beside a shabby trailer. She walked all around. It had a flat base and then bars all the way to the roof. She should leave. But she couldn’t go. She peered into the gloom.
There in the corner was a curled shape, with a slowly moving head. As Ava’s eyes adjusted to the gathering dark she saw a tail thumping heavily on the wooden floor. The stripes of light and shadow were not just cast by the bars of the cage, but were part of the shape.
The tiger moved a heavy paw to hold down a hunk of meat as it chewed. Its amber eyes looked straight at her. Ava wanted the meat – no, she
the meat. She had no idea why. There were two pieces: one under the tiger’s paw and a smaller piece near the bars. She could reach it if she dared. She could reach it, and daring didn’t come into it.
She waited until the tiger’s head was down, chewing, and then pushed a hand through the bars towards the smaller piece. The sleeve of the fur coat didn’t fit, it got stuck. But now the tiger was looking at her. She didn’t care. She struggled out of the coat and dropped it, then slipped her arm easily between the bars.
The tiger snarled.
‘Shhhhh,’ she said. ‘There, there. Nice tiger.’
One paw stretched out, lazy at first, then lightning fast. It swiped her arm and slashed it from elbow to wrist. Ava screamed, pulled back her ravaged
arm and stared in horror at the gaping wound, waiting for the blood to flow.
And she waited.
The sides of the parted muscle stood pink and firm, but unbloodied. She screamed again. And again and again. Very slowly, a trickle of red formed inside the cut. It was like a river in a valley, fed by streams, but all in slow motion.
Ava watched in horror, too afraid to feel the pain. And too afraid to notice the person approaching from behind, until a hand covered her mouth and an arm clamped across her chest.
Ava bit the hand that was over her mouth. Another hand came up, replacing it. The arm was bare – astonishing in the cold – and it was a woman’s arm, but thick and strong.
‘Let me go!’ Ava tried to shout, but her voice was muffled by the arm.
Ava bit again, as hard as she could, and suddenly felt warm blood in her mouth. She kept her teeth
in the flesh, then dug them in harder, and sucked without thinking and without feeling anything but a flood of pleasure.
The woman swore and hit Ava around the head, hard, so that she fell over. Then the woman stood nursing her arm and looking at Ava, with blood around her mouth, lying in the snow.
Ava’s arm, ripped open, was barely bleeding. The woman stared at it and started to back away. Ava licked the blood from her lips and lunged towards the woman’s ankle, mouth gaping, desperate for more.
The woman turned and ran, shouting: ‘Lugat, lugat!’
Ava had no idea what it meant. No one came from any of the trailers or caravans. Indeed, lights went out – no one was going to help the woman.
Left alone, Ava grabbed a handful of
snow and filled her mouth with it, desperate for every last drop of the blood, faint with the longing for more. But the woman was gone, and Ava didn’t dare try again to take meat from the tiger.
A distant scream, that could have been a person or an owl, roused Ava. She looked around. Was that a dark figure, hurrying through the trees? She wasn’t sure. Perhaps it was just a shadow. She picked up her coat and made her way slowly back to the city.
She found a restaurant with a menu in English. When the waiter came back, she pointed to ‘steak’. He asked her a question which she didn’t
. She took the pen from him and drew on his pad – a steak dripping with blood. He laughed.
Ten minutes later he brought her a steak that
was barely cooked – a large slab of bleeding meat. Ava was so excited she struggled to eat it with a knife and fork. She longed to pick it up in her hands and bite, sucking the blood from it like you would suck juice from an orange.
* * * * *
Back at her hotel, the meaning of it all struck her. The meaning and the horror. What had she become? She hardly dared think about it.
Ava made excuses in her head. She was confused, she had lost her memory, she hadn’t eaten for ages.
It was impossible that she was a vampire – that was ages ago, in summer. The others became vampires overnight. Of course it couldn’t have happened to her. Everything would be fine tomorrow. Perhaps she was just anaemic, needed iron in her diet. That must be it.
But she couldn’t fool herself. She woke in the silent, early hours of the morning, startled by dreams of blood that made her desperate with longing.
In Hungary, Ignace had made her eat bread soaked in Nathan’s blood. He’d said it would make her immune. Nathan. Her ex-boyfriend who’d tried to kill her. Well, bite her. She shuddered.
He must have felt the same about her as she’d felt about the woman at the circus. She’d wanted to suck the woman’s blood, more than she’d ever wanted anything. It was a terrifying need. She knew she couldn’t control it.
Ava struggled to fill the gaps in her memory. Maybe there was a clue in the time she’d forgotten.
, she told herself.
You must remember what happened.
After Ignace’s castle she’d gone to Prague. She’d been walking, and someone had called her name. And then nothing – except that flashback to a room in a castle and a meal she didn’t want. And perhaps Omar. But that didn’t make sense. The next thing she knew, she was here, chucked out of a moving car, with a hotel key and a fur coat that wasn’t hers.
Ava went into the bathroom and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She had a reflection.
Surely vampires had no reflection?
she thought. Perhaps the reflection faded slowly.
Suddenly, fury overwhelmed her. She grabbed the marble soap dish and hurled it at the mirror, smashing her image into dozens of tiny reflections. If she had to be a vampire, she was going to be an angry one. She picked up a piece of the shattered mirror and ran her finger along the sharp edge.
Ava couldn’t read the poster in the hotel lobby, but one word leapt out at her: ‘
’. The circus had a vampire called Ivan. There was a picture of him – a boy of about her own age, fit, wearing a black cloak and with pointy teeth exposed and dripping blood. She asked the stern woman at reception, who shrugged.
‘He says he’s a vampire. What do I know? It’s a circus – they have all types. Go and see if you like it. It is open tonight.’
Six months ago, she’d have assumed he was a fake. Now she knew he might not be. She had to find out. She’d go to see it. And then, if he was a real vampire … Was it too much to hope for?
The park was swarming with police, and they’d cordoned off the area near the trailers. Ava skirted around it to the queue of families waiting to see the circus. As they filed into the striped Big Top and hustled for the best seats, she curled her fingers around the razor-sharp shard of mirror she’d put in her pocket. If she could just get close enough, she’d see if he had a reflection.
It was a cold night to sit in a tent. Ava could see the tiger’s breath as it prowled sulkily and did easy tricks. Ava pushed her left hand inside the right sleeve of her coat and felt the makeshift bandage she’d put on her arm. She should have had the
wound stitched – it would scar horribly. And it ached. She felt sure the tiger was looking at her, knowing. For how many centuries would she carry that scar? Ava wondered.
The vampire boy came on stage dressed in a cape. He had dark hair, slicked back, and pointy teeth – a standard, movie vampire. He acted out a dinner scene with a girl in a skimpy dress, eating a raw steak while the girl looked nervous.
The vampire drank red liquid from a glass, and the girl refused to drink. Then he tried to bite the girl, but she fought him off with a crucifix. He recoiled, and then bit a hapless dog and sucked some of its blood. He
bitten it – or it was a good fake – and he had blood dribbling down his chin.
Ava wasn’t sure she believed the act. She knew
wouldn’t waste any blood like that. But he’d had practice. And perhaps he would finish the dog later.
She left at the interval, hoping to catch the vampire boy outside. He was leaning against a trailer, drinking from a brown bottle. Blood? Beer? She went over.
‘Hi. Do you speak any English?’ she asked.
‘Yep. Lots. And you?’
Ava was stunned.
‘You’re English?’ she said.
‘I am. You’re not.’
‘Australian,’ she said.
‘What are you doing in a dump like this in the middle of winter?’
Ava shrugged. She actually didn’t know.
‘I just ended up here.’ She didn’t think she could say – ‘I went off with some vampires and then something happened that I don’t remember and I found myself here.’
‘Want a drink?’ He waved the bottle at her.
‘What is it?’
She took it – perhaps too eagerly – and knocked it back. It wasn’t blood.
‘I’m impressed,’ he said. ‘Most girls would have refused.’
‘It’s not very nice,’ she said. ‘What is it really?’
‘Some local brew. We could go for a normal
drink if you like?’
She did like, and they went to a small café. She felt drawn to Ivan. There was something about him that entranced her. Perhaps it was the vampire in him. Or perhaps it was his perfectly chiselled features, his easy manner, his ready smile and the way he touched her arm.
‘So, tell me about your act. Are you a real vampire?’ she asked.
‘Can’t tell you. Trade secret.’
How could she tell him it was her trade, too? No, not on a first date. She’d tell him soon.
They talked and talked, and when they both ordered rare steak, he laughed.
‘Really? You really want it?’ he asked. But when it came, it was very clear that she really wanted it.