Authors: K. P. Ambroziak
“Is she breathing?” I asked.
The girl’s eyes were closed but from where I
stood it looked as though her chest was moving. Elizabeth leaned in and
listened for her heartbeat. “I don’t hear anything,” she said.
I bent down and put my hand on the girl’s
chest. She did feel dead. I touched her cheek with my palm, tapping it softly
to revive her. I placed two fingers near her clavicle and waited to feel her
pulse—she was not breathing. I coaxed the blood to flow, teasing it out
with my dreadful desire to taste it.
“You must bring her back,” Elizabeth said.
She could not hide her sorrow this time and gently caressed the girl’s face
with the back of her hand. “She cannot be dead,” she said.
I shooed her away and tilted the girl’s head
back, opening her mouth wide and clearing her airway. I placed my mouth on hers
and blew an artificial gust of air from my lungs without thinking about my lips
on hers, how close my fangs were to her skin, the deliciousness of her blood
and the sweetness of the child growing inside of her. All I thought about was
bringing her back to life. I pressed on her chest, counting the pumps in my
head—one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two three. I placed my lips
on hers again when I felt her stir and gave her another gust of air. When I
sensed the jolt of heat through her veins, I pulled my mouth away and turned
her on her side before the surge of water erupted from her lungs. She coughed
and then inhaled deeply, trying desperately to catch her breath.
Elizabeth’s squeal of joy pulled me from my
haze, and I let her take my place beside the girl. I did not see her open her
eyes, but I knew I had revived her. I tasted her on the tip of my tongue, not
realizing I had pierced the inside of her lip with my subtle fangs when I
resuscitated her, drawing the smallest amount of blood which lingered for
“Where are the others?” I asked.
Only then did I notice we were alone. I
looked to the water and saw a magnificent glow on the river. Stephen and
Veronica stood on the bank watching it too. The sloop had erupted in fire, gone
up in flames to burn the bloodless trapped on it. The bonfire of monsters
roared, as distorted flesh roasted on the boat-sized spit.
“How?” Stephen asked.
“Jean,” Elizabeth said, as she came up behind
me. “Jean stayed behind.”
Veronica turned to us with those awful human
tears in her eyes. “He’s gone.”
I knew it then if I had not known it before.
He never planned to leave the sloop. He took the canisters of propane from the
galley and the flares from the tackle box, going back up on deck to light his
pyre. He would have had to wait for the last possible moment to light the fire,
making sure we had reached safety. The torture would have been horrific. He
sacrificed himself for us—and I will remember you, my friend, for it is
because of you that I am still here.
As the fire burned, I thought of the hell we
were forced to face, nowhere now and lost along the riverbank. The girl called
me to her and the softness in her voice made me recall the taste. Hours later
and it lives in me still. She sat up, her bright eyes welcoming me beside her.
She did not look like someone who had barely escaped death. She held a small
plastic bag in her hand, and it was not until I sat beside her that I realized
what it was. “I saved this for you,” she said.
When she handed me my journal, I was touched.
She had saved my history in the small pocket of her robe, safely tucking
between its pages my beloved Byron’s notes. Now it was I who gushed with
gratitude. “Thank you, Evelina.”
— We spent the night
in the woods without shelter, but dawn has finally arrived to break up the
darkness. Mere hours since fleeing the boat, I still mourn my loss. Elizabeth
is heartbroken too, though she seems to have converted her sorrow into care for
the girl. She has been by her side since our escape and I hope the temptation
is not as torturous for her as it is for the other two. Veronica is worse off
than ever, and Stephen is despondent. I will take him with me to hunt, leaving
the girl with the other two. I see no use in dragging her through the woods.
Though I put my faith in Veronica and Elizabeth, I have no other choice. It
will be difficult for Stephen to leave his beloved, and I can already see the
anguish on his face. Their commitment is inviolable since it is virtually
physical. They knew each other as humans, which always makes for a severe
attachment. More than a hundred years ago in Budapest, after she was
transfigured, she saved him; it is a story worth a few lines in my diary.
Late one evening, as the two crossed
Heroes’ Square together
, they were assaulted.
Stephen said the man’s eyes raged like a rabid animal, and he was waving a
pistol at them. Stephen calmly stepped in front of Veronica and asked the man
to back away. He twitched and scratched and then started to retreat but tripped
on something and fell backwards. He fired off two shots, one bullet grazing
Stephen’s shoulder and getting lodged in his neck, the other hitting Veronica
in the temple. Stephen recalls lying on the ground, trying to get to Veronica
but no longer able to move. “Only my eyes,” he said. “I could only move my
He saw the shadow from the corner of his eye,
the presence bending over him and caressing his face. He could feel the
coldness, despite his paralysis, and still remembers the smell of lavender.
“Taci,” the shadow said. “
He saw the shadow take Veronica’s body and
carry it away. He recalls how they seemed to disappear into the darkness as
though the shadow had never even touched the ground. Paramedics soon arrived
and ushered Stephen away. He only heard voices in the hospital, apathetic and
cold sounds. Nothing seemed real, as he lay in a bed paralyzed from his chin
down. In and out of consciousness, he asked for Veronica each time he woke.
Eventually, he realized his calls went unheard—the wound had silenced
him, the bullet having severed his vocal chords. He lay incapacitated for
months, aching for a life that was lost to him forever. Hopeless in his
isolation, powerless in his body, he suffered until she came for him. He says
he will never forget the moment everything changed, how in the blink of an eye,
his life was restored. “I saw the shadow flit across the ceiling,” he said.
“And then I smelled the lavender.”
He did not feel the bite, the venom’s rime
course through him, the pain of his transformation. His perception was
engrossed in the tingling of his newly revived body and the thirst—the
burning need for blood. “I thought I was dreaming when I saw her,” he said.
Veronica greeted him with his first drink,
nursing him to stability. From the moment of their embrace, he knew what he had
become. “Wallach is my maker,” she said. “And I am yours.”
“It’s complicated,” she said.
Wallach is a Romanian nomad, a vampire who
mostly travels alone. Nomads are reputed to be cruel, incapable of compassion,
but Wallach had been good to Veronica. He had sincerely wanted to be with her,
though he cannot change his nature. Abandoned at inception, he is unable to
nurture a progeny.
“Why didn’t he save me that night too?”
“He couldn’t,” she said. “We can only choose
one every hundred years.”
Stephen said he did not understand what that
meant at first, but soon realized the greatness of Veronica’s gesture—she
had chosen him.
“I didn’t know if you’d regret my choice,”
she said. “It’s permanent in the most permanent way.” He said she smiled when
she said that and he could not resist showing her how grateful he was.
I’ve always admired their physical
bond—their humanlike attachment. They knew how to enjoy their vampiric
nature together from the beginning. After they joined our clan, we met
Veronica’s maker. Wallach had taken up with an ancient vampire named Rangu.
Rangu—not quite as ancient as I, but he wishes—claims to be a
reincarnation of Vishnu, though not the tenth avatar. These days, however, I
wonder if he is not the Hindu god come to herald the end of the world.
— When Stephen and I
made our way through the woods, we avoided the bloodless with ease since only a
few wandered on this side of the riverbank.
“Wait,” Stephen said.
“I smell it too,” I said.
Smoke wafted through the trees, evincing the
recent dampening of a fire. The bloodless are incapable of mental tasks such as
building campfires—I will be devastated if I learn they have developed
cognitive ability. The horror on the water had been threatening enough. “This
way,” I said.
The scent led us through the trees to a
clearing with a circle of spears stuck in the ground. The small enclosure
looked like a savage’s prison, only not to keep the enemy in but out. In the
center, stones surrounded a pit of sand. Stephen slipped in between the spears.
“The coals are wet,” he said.
Neither of us picked up the human scent, not
even one that had long since expired. “What are you thinking?” He asked.
I pointed to the small game drying on the
line strung between two trees. Stephen smiled. “Humans,” he said.
“Grab the meat,” I said.
As he gathered the game from the line,
bending down to place it in his satchel, a bullet sailed through the trees and
grazed the top of his ear. Without hesitating, he turned in the direction of
the shot and blasted off through the brush. When I caught up to him, he hung from
a tree. He was tied up in a net, dangling from a branch, and I rushed up the
trunk to free him with my talons.
“Why can’t I smell him?” Stephen asked when
he hit the ground.
I held a finger up, directing him to keep
quiet. I could hear the man breathing. When another shot fired in our
direction, this time nicking the corner of my ear, I knew exactly where he was.
I flew through the brush and caught the man before he got away, crushing his
windpipe beneath my grip. A gun dangled at his side, as I held him several feet
off the ground. The mystery of his elusive scent was solved when we smelled the
month’s worth of silt and rot from the riverbed. He was covered in a stink that
rivaled a sewer.
“Can we clean him before we feed?” Stephen
I assured him we would have to make do, and
we each took a nip from the stinking man’s neck before tearing through the
forest back the way we came with his unconscious body. When we arrived,
Veronica was gone.
“She was going mad,” Elizabeth said. “I’m
sorry Stephen.” Elizabeth told us that Veronica ranted about turning to ashes.
“I asked her to stay calm for Evie’s sake,” she said. “She leered at
her—and I know that look. When her fangs dropped, I had to send her
I chided myself for taking Stephen and
leaving Veronica with such temptation. Elizabeth showed me the bruise the
vampire gave Evelina when she attempted to put her arm in her mouth. “I was
strong enough to get her off,” Elizabeth said.
“It wasn’t her fault,” Evelina said with her
small voice. “I know she suffers.”
I still cannot get Stephen’s look of violence
and disgust out of my mind. His wound was palpable, as he released his irons.
“Do not,” I warned him. “You will regret it.”
“One sip for Chrissake,” he said. “You could
have given her one sip.” He looked away, ashamed at his outburst, and I knew he
would not cross the line. Instead, he ran off in the direction Elizabeth told
him his beloved had gone and did not look back, as he disappeared into the
I am torn—heartbroken really. I do not
know how to keep us all together. The blood from the man has given my
starvation a reprieve, but without Stephen and Veronica, without my whole clan,
I am more vulnerable than ever—and so is Evelina. I have decided to wait
for them until dusk. I hope for their return before the sun sets.
— When Stephen and
Veronica did not return, Elizabeth and I carried Evelina through the woods to a
deserted hamlet on its border. We encountered a few stray bloodless here and
there, but the man’s blood gave me enough strength to smite them with my
talons. We are in a cottage; it is rather small, with a single room, but is
isolated enough and seems the safest place for us while I decide what to do
about my shrunken clan. Elizabeth watches over the girl, and I have commended
her on her discipline.
“You have shown great bravery and sacrifice,”
I said to her, as Evelina slept at her side. She was touched by my gratitude
and I suspect she did not think I would notice.
“I want to please her,” she said.
Elizabeth resented her transfiguration,
though she loved Maxine, and spent years in search of her beloved, one she has
yet to find. I worry she may think Evelina is a possible candidate, though she
would never change the girl. That, I do not doubt. She must hope, though, that
somehow, in some way, she is forging a bond with the human. I will not tell her
it is hopeless, that their differences are too great and will eventually get
the better of their friendship. For now, Elizabeth has nothing else, and I need
her just as much as Evelina does.
— Byron had mapped out
a course of action in his notes. He had designed a plan to repopulate the earth
with healthy humans. He believed the bloodless would eventually die off, and
the healthy would outlive the plague.
, he wrote,
be no bloodless left—the infection will die with the last of them
I feel an immense weight at this prospect
since his conjecture may only be validated if I can keep the healthy safe. How
I am to keep bloodless from this new population is a mystery I am determined to
solve. Humans can only repopulate if bloodless do not prey on the
populace—not to mention the starved vampires, lurking amidst colonies of
healthy donors, bleeding them dry.
— I had a dream, or a
waking reverie, I conversed with Byron about cloning.
Cloning can either save or destroy the world!
Ah, it is a useless
prophecy without scientists and labs. Save the girl! That is all you can do.
— We have been here
for three days and several swarms have passed us, though none have picked up
Evelina’s scent. She is covered in incense oil.
I have been successful finding canned
preserves for her from nearby pantries. The hamlet is surprisingly untouched,
as if all its inhabitants got up and left before the pandemic began. The
cottages are vacant, none of them harboring the enemy. Elizabeth and I
suffer—we are hungry. We hide our anguish from Evelina but if we do not
get blood soon, we will be of little use to her.
— Byron, my dear sweet
Byron, thank you for showing me your brilliant mind this morning when I found
your entry on blood substitutes. You had hoped it would not come to this since
consuming a substitute is a wretched thought and something none of us would desire,
but you had been experimenting on synthetics nevertheless. I assume you wanted
to spare me the horror of your delving into such grimy waters. I found the
formula marked in the margin of your notes, and I can only assume it is a
recipe for a substitute.
Since the turn
of the millennium, the
medical community had made s
advancements in hemoglobin-based oxygen therapeutics. By 2036, scientists had
engineered a sufficient and acceptable substitute for human blood. We had never
tried it since we never had a need for it, but now it seemed a viable option. I
cannot imagine why Byron kept this from me, though I recall an allusion to it
in a conversation months before the epidemic. He had been working tirelessly in
his lab and when I expressed interest, he dodged my question.
nothing,” he had said. “A mere trifle.”
Day and night
he locked himself in his lab, vexed by the slightest disruption. Long gone were
our wicked nights on the prowl for cold women and warm blood. It got to the
point of my having to insist he come out to dine on the leftovers I brought him
from my hunt. On one such occasion, as I watched him devour the lithe waif I
served him, I noticed his malaise. It was as if the human blood did not excite
his senses, and his apathy bothered me. “Is something wrong?” I asked.
He insisted he
was not hungry and when I asked if he had fed, he changed the subject.
“Do you prefer
men or women?” He teased me, knowing I favored the blood of young women. “What
about animals?” He asked.
disgusted me and I showed him so, sticking out my tongue and making a retching
sound. “Beneath me,” I said.
“I realize, my
love, that you have ancient taste buds,” he said with a grin. “But we may not
always be fortunate enough to choose from where our blood comes.” With that, he
slipped back into his lab, leaving me to finish the waif he had only just
I assumed his
behavior was a result of his exhaustion, overworked as he was. Though we do not
need sleep, we are required to rest our minds every now and then. I did not
press him, and when the affliction proved resilient and he started his work on
the bloodless, his troubling conduct was forgotten.
How could I
not know, Byron? You were in the midst of developing a blood substitute that
could save us all from anguish. It seems obvious now, but why did you not
suggest it when our need for it grew desperate? Why not use the supplement to
save us? To save you? My questions are without answers, though his final gift
to me stares up at me from the margin of his notes. In addition to the formula,
he made a list of the gallons of blood substitute in a cryostat cooler in his
lab at our home in the catacombs.
As I anticipate our arrival tomorrow, I dread my nostos. I have not seen
LaDenza since the plague began. When I told Elizabeth my plan early this
morning, she voiced her reservations.
“Will we bring
Evie?” Elizabeth’s sole concern was for Evelina and her child.
“Of course,” I
“But how’ll we
get past the creepers?” She asked. “Just the two of us?”
I found it
telling she had picked up the girl’s term for the bloodless. “We have no
choice,” I said. “We have to get back to the catacombs.”
they’re still—” I raised my hand to prevent her question. She knew it
meant I had nothing further to discuss and my decision was final.
“We set out
when she wakes,” I said.
We left the
cottage an hour later. I carried Evelina on my back while Elizabeth towed the
meager provisions we had acquired. We moved swiftly through the abandoned
hamlet, a ghost town without a soul, living or dead. I had found a map and
planned our trip along the quickest route back to my home. The catacombs are on
the outskirts of a town ten miles north of our current location, but there is
an obstacle and it will take us twenty-five to get there. The river through the
path keeps us from traveling straight since we must avoid the water at all
My energy waned, hungry as I was, but I
conserved what I had in case of an attack. The rise of a swarm is difficult to
predict, so I renewed my efforts to listen for howls in the distance. Elizabeth
clung to my left side and we cradled Evelina between us. I could not carry her any
longer and we were forced to walk at a human pace. I tried to resist
frustration when she asked to stop. “Please,” she said. “I need to catch my
The last thing I wanted to do was stop, even
for a brief moment, but pushing her was pointless. I needed her healthy and
alive but had to remind myself of her condition constantly. “We will rest here
for a while,” I said.
We were in a vineyard and I noticed a small
cabin a few yards away. I insisted we go inside for shelter. “I’ll go ahead,”
As she stole through the withered vines up to
the cabin, I scanned the horizon for movement. The place was abandoned, and the
silence confirmed there were no bloodless for at least a furlong. When
Elizabeth waved to me from the cabin, I picked Evelina up in my arms and
carried her to safety. The stop was a fortuitous one since we found a fully
stocked cupboard and what looked like a fresh pot of coffee inside. Though the
pot was cold, the grinds were fresh. Elizabeth opened a can of oysters and a
tin of crackers and set a plate for Evelina. “Doesn’t it seem like someone is
“Yes,” I said.
Yes, yes, it does!
The thought of also sharing a meal woke my
When Evelina finished eating, she was ready
for sleep. I carried her to a small cot in a nook at the back of the cabin and
as she rested, Elizabeth and I sat in the main room, where soon the most
incredible smell wafted in through the windows. When starved, fresh blood
smells delicious no matter the human.
“Shush!” The sound of a male voice broke the
What luck, I thought, there is more than one.
“Someone’s inside,” the man whispered.
“How should I know?”
We stood at the door, waiting with readied
fangs. I let my irons drop for the simple pleasure of the kill I had long been
needing. Elizabeth gave me a look that said she wanted to give chase but I held
her back. We hung on the edge of anticipation for what seemed like eternity.
“They’ve gone?” Elizabeth gestured.
I sniffed the air, shaking my head at the
fresh blood smell still thick and close. They had not gone, but waited to see
if we would come out. I feigned a cough and then baited them with a loud
whisper. “Someone is coming,” I said.
Elizabeth mimicked Evelina’s small voice. “Oh
no,” she said. “Do you think they’ll let us stay?”
We heard shuffling on the other side of the
door, and I put my hand on the knob, turning it slowly. Before I could pull the
door to me, it swung open and a young woman stood on the step with a rifle
pointed at my face. She was dead at the sight of me, for I grabbed her hair and
ripped open her neck with my mouth, as the rifle dropped to the ground. I bit
into her with my subtle fangs, keeping her alive for Elizabeth. When I had my
fill, I handed her off. “I will be back with the other,” I said, wiping the
blood from my chin. I do not think she heard me, as she was in the throes of
ecstasy when I took off.