Authors: S.G. Schvercraft
It started farther from the house, I noticed. Just as strength and speed increased over time, so did a sire’s hold. That’s why my oldest sister was little more than a shell wherever she was inside a city radius of Nathan, and why the other, just a few years older than me, began losing herself within a mile of home.
I had begun to feel my sire’s presence as I approached the house, a pressure pushing my thoughts from my mind. With every step up the stairs, I became more of Nathan’s vessel. Making it worse was how good it felt to lose myself.
By the time I had reached the third-floor bedroom that Nathan had made his throne room, Jackson Wheel was barely a memory. So was most of myself. If it wouldn’t please Nathan, it was not important to me.
Nathan was wearing jeans as I entered, but otherwise undressed. In the corner, a grandfather clock we had brought along with his crates of war mementos chimed the hour.
Curled at his feet like a cat was Cynthia, the eldest sister. Of us three girls, she was the most voluptuous, with long, chestnut hair and a beauty mark just above her lip that made her look like she belonged in classic Hollywood. She had been twenty-four when she died in the early ‘60s.
The decade must have been encoded in her DNA. She’d have been sexy in a Marilyn Monroe one-piece swimsuit, but looked cheap in the sheer body stocking she was wearing.
Between Nathan’s legs was the middle child, Gina. Her blond hair was done in tresses that couldn’t help but come loose as her head enthusiastically bobbed up and down in Nathan’s lap. Her naked back was to me, her legs tucked neatly underneath her, the thigh-high boots encasing them the only things she was wearing.
She had been closer to twenty when Nathan had taken her, a junior here at Ramsgate. “The campus has changed so much since ‘89,” she’d gushed the night the four of us came to town.
At my approach, Nathan gently pushed Gina away. She obeyed grudgingly. The umbilical cord of saliva connecting her mouth to him was severed only when he zipped up his jeans.
He had lean muscle flowing beneath firm skin. His hair was as long as some of the guys on campus, but Nathan combed his neatly.
I had come across a photo—a daguerreotype—of him once while packing for one of our moves. Aside from the mustache and Union uniform, he looked exactly the same.
“Did you bring us anything?” he asked.
Letting your parents down, betraying your country—multiply those by a thousand, and it almost captured how I felt at his question.
“No.” I sobbed, pulling open my ruined shirt to reveal my battered body. “I tried, but his friends found him. There were too many of them, and they did this to me.”
He stepped to me and caressed my face, and suddenly it was the only place on my body that didn’t feel pain.
I almost told him about Jackson then, Nathan’s human gesture making me want to be transparent with him. But my predator mind, always thinking about self-preservation, had again spoken up:
Don’t tell him
He withdrew his hand, and the pain returned to my face, somehow worse without his touch. The smile on his face made me think he’d planned it that way.
“I understand, Ginny,” he said. “Alas, now we’re all reduced to day-old deer blood. That’s not very good, is it?”
“No,” I’d said, tears streaming down my bruised and cut face.
“Not very responsible.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Well, my fault for having us rely on the runt of the litter. Terrible of me. You probably haven’t eaten either. You must be famished. Cynthia, fetch me a bucket from the other room.”
When she returned, I recognized it—one of the pails we’d been draining deer into. Even if the blood was old, the house’s chill had kept it fresh enough. I could smell it. I could see it, life still radiating from it in slow, uneven waves.
I was so hungry.
Taking the pail from her, Nathan emptied the bucket over my head. “There you go,” he said. “That’s your dinner. Whatever you can lick off yourself.”
That’s what I did, stripping naked to wring all the blood from what had been my favorite outfit. While I did, my sisters took turns riding him like competitors in a perverse derby. Nathan didn’t look at me for the rest of the night, but my sisters occasionally gave me triumphant glances when our sire’s face was buried in their chests. I was jealous, allowed to watch but not allowed to play, until daylight mercifully came, and with it sleep.
Everything that had happened hurt, but what made it worse was when I was allowed to leave the house tonight. The true magnitude of how pathetic I was really came home.
Of course, I wasn’t going to tell Jackson any of this. A lady has to keep up appearances.
“Are you anyone’s sire?” he asked.
“No. It takes time to be strong enough to do that.”
“It varies,” I said. “I seem to be coming along faster than most. Why risk it, though? If you try making a thrall when you’re not ready, you’ll just kill your intended and yourself.”
“Can you be resurrected?” he asked. “Seems like it’d be easy to pull a stake out of a dead buddy’s heart.”
I didn’t want to roll my eyes at such an adorably stupid question. “I’m afraid not. There are no sequels for us. Once we’re ended, we’re gone forever, cast into Hell.”
“‘Hell’?” Jackson asked, as if uncertain of the word’s taste.
I nodded. “We’re damned. All of us Nightfallen.”
“What’s a Nightfallen?”
“You, me—all of us undead. It’s our name for ourselves.”
“So a fancy word for vampire?”
“More than that. Names are important.”
“A rose by another name would be just as sweet.”
“I wouldn’t have expected a literary allusion from a soldier.”
“We covered Shakespeare in basic. Or it could have been high school, I can’t remember.”
“Well, if that rose were called rankbreath, would you stop to smell it? Words have power. ‘Nightfallen’ encapsulates us. Things that are not just fallen, as Man is fallen, but who accept it and know there is no salvation. The name also reinforces that identity, amplifies it. And so we revel in our own degeneracy. Why shouldn’t we? God hates us, after all.”
“The way you talk about God like He’s a fact, I’d say you’ve got more faith than the pope.”
“Because it’s not faith. We have proof. Why else does holy water boil our skin, and we catch fire if we set foot on consecrated ground? What other explanation is there for how blinding a little cross is to us? You could spend all your immortal days helping old ladies cross the street, but in the end, it would still be lakes of fire for you. So until then, you may as well have fun and protect yourself with everything that you have, because otherwise, it’s eternal torment.” Finally he seemed to understand how serious I was.
“Then tell me what my weaknesses are. Sunlight, I know, and I’m assuming stakes to the heart and decapitation, but that’s more movies than instinct talking.”
“The movies are right—about those things, at least. Of course, we are able to last for a whole minute in the sun before completely burning up. We may not have as many cool powers as other Nightfallen races, but at least we don’t combust on first contact with daylight.”
He frowned. “‘Races’?”
“Other types of Nightfallen.” His eyes widened at that. “I know, I thought it was crazy when my sire told me about the others too. Pop culture hints at our existence, but the idea that there are different vampire races hasn’t really permeated.”
“And they have different powers?”
“More like the same kinds of powers and limitations but to different degrees.”
“Where are we in this pecking order?” Jackson asked.
“Putting it in scientific terms, we are toward the middle of the bell curve,” I said. “Mid-range undead, as it were.”
“So we’re kind of like Hondas. There are Chevys beneath us and Lexuses above.”
“There are Maseratis and Hummers too,” I said, indulging the analogy. “Or so I’m told. I’ve never seen them, though. Echo Valley is supposed to be some sort of crossroads. I think it’s why Nathan brought us here.”
“How many kinds are we talking about?” he asked, clearly interested.
“At least a dozen. I don’t really know. Since it’s possible for us to get eaten from either side of the spectrum, it’s best to stay away from those that are different.”
We talked awhile at Trios before leaving our cold, still-full coffee mugs to walk Dominion Street. It was foggy outside, warm dampness coming in from the south and mingling with the snow on the ground. I hadn’t been here that long, but had noticed how the mountains had a way of holding in the fog, almost seeming to concentrate it.
“Come on, let’s hit the campus,” I said. “I’m hungry.”
“Are we sure that’s a good idea?” he asked. “Their parents and friends are bound to notice disappearing students.”
“Relax. I’ve been doing this awhile.”
In the fog, buildings were shadows perceived more than seen, and people faded in and out of the mist. It was a Tuesday night, so not many students were walking Ramsgate College’s quad. Nice night to hunt.
“Do you see her?” I asked. It was a woman ahead of us, walking slowly toward us as she played with her smartphone.
“I do. Maybe fifty yards up ahead. I can’t see her in the normal spectrum, but even through the fog, she’s glowing this beautiful red.”
Same thing I was seeing. I grabbed his hand as though we were boyfriend and girlfriend. “People are less suspicious of couples,” I said. “When she gets close, hit your headlights.”
I sighed. “Make your eyes go hypnotic.”
“I didn’t know I could do that.” He blinked his eyes, as if trying to make them work. “Don’t think I can do that yet.”
Not exactly surprising. It was an advanced skill that some never fully mastered. Cynthia was over fifty and could barely pull it off. I was better than most my age, but by no means a master.
“It’s okay. We’ll cover it later. Just follow my lead, and I’ll take care of it,” I said.
Approaching us, she faded in from the fog, clear enough now for us to see her in the visible spectrum. Her face was lit by her iPhone’s small screen. She was on her way to being pretty, but not quite there yet. She was tall and gangly—probably a freshman that hadn’t quite grown into her body—with her long, dirty-blond hair pulled back into a simple ponytail.
She was so into her text conversation she would have passed us without even noticing. A perfect victim—it was easiest when they were distracted.
My eyes glowed gold. “Excuse me, my boyfriend and I are lost. Help us, please,” I said, my voice’s Southern sweetness turned up somewhere around eleven.
She looked up, surprised that there was anyone there, and stared full into my shimmering eyes. “Okay . . . yeah, sure,” the girl said.
“What’s your name?”
“Tracy,” she said.
The secret I had found was to keep everything calm and normal, giving gentle orders until I could sink teeth. Done right, they wouldn’t fight at all.
“Tracy, it’s so cold in this nasty fog. We thought we would warm up in one of the campus’s buildings. Are any of them unlocked?” I asked.
She held her phone close to her face, but her attention was completely on me. “Labs are locked immediately after class, but the rest of the buildings are open. I think campus security only locks up after eleven.”
Still holding her gaze, I tilted my head at the darkened three-story block of whitewashed stone we were standing in front of. “So this one right here ought to be open?”
“Show us, please. We’re not students, Tracy, so it wouldn’t be right for us to walk around without an escort.”
“Sure,” Tracy said.
I let go of Jackson and laced my arm gently around her waist as we walked up the front entrance’s stairs. “You know, it was so rude of me interrupting you while you were texting. Who were you texting, by the way?”
“Is he expecting to see you tonight?”
“I was heading over to his apartment.”
“You might want to tell him you’re running late, since you were so nice helping us.”
Tracy sent the message.
“Now, Tracy, you’ll want to turn off your phone. It’s important to conserve battery life,” I said, and watched as she powered off her cell.
The building’s first floor seemed to be nothing but big, arena-style classrooms.
“My boyfriend and I were hoping for some place a little more comfortable to get warm. Are there any classrooms in here with carpeting or couches?” I asked.
“I think there’s a meeting room on the second floor that’s carpeted,” she said.
We went there. Jackson locked the door behind us, the only light in the meeting room coming from the quad’s lampposts below.
“Please, sit on the table and relax. . . . That’s right. It’s warm in here. Let me help you with your jacket,” I said, pulling down the zippered collar to expose her throat.
I smiled at Jackson. “She’s all yours,” I said, as Tracy looked vacantly across the room.
He extended his fangs, and leaned into her. She gasped, then moaned pleasantly as he sank teeth into her. I watched as the life that had glowed so brightly in the girl began to dim.
“Not too much, now. Don’t overdo it and kill her.” It was preferred not to leave bodies lying around if we could help it. Who needed that kind attention?
He withdrew from her neck, and as I moved to take my turn, I noticed something strange.
“You left marks on her neck,” I said.
“Yeah, I was just drinking on her,” Jackson said, surprised he had to say something so obvious.
“But . . . we don’t leave marks.”
“What do you mean?”
I spat a few times into my hand, then rubbed the saliva on Tracy’s neck. It didn’t just rub away the blood; it healed the wound.
“It’s an adaptive trait,” I said. “It keeps prey from walking around with puncture marks and alerting others. But . . . you can’t do that?”
I looked quickly to the windows. He must have noticed.
“Checking to see if I don’t have a reflection?” he asked.
In the windows’ reflection, the silent, vacant-eyed Tracy was alone. “Yes,” I said. “You don’t seem like you’re from another race. I can’t understand why you wouldn’t have something so basic. It’s like extending your fangs.”