My chest felt tight, and I bit my lip, imagining the faces of my friends staring at me, pale and accusing. My eyes burned, but I swallowed hard and forced back the tears. I could cry and scream and curse the world and the rabids and the vampires later. But I would not show weakness in front of this stranger, this bloodsucker who might have saved me, but about whom I knew nothing. When I was alone, I would cry for Rat and Lucas and Stick, the family I'd lost. Right now, I had larger issues to deal with.
I was a vampire. And, despite everything, I still wanted to live.
The stranger waited, as unmoving as a wall. He might be a bloodsucker, but he was the only familiar thing I had left.
"So," I said softly without looking up. Resentment boiled, an old, familiar hate, but I shoved it down. "Do I call you
'master' or 'teacher' or something else?" The vampire paused, then said, "You may call me Kanin."
"Kanin? Is that your name?"
"I did not say it was my name." He turned as if to leave, but crossed the room and sank into a rusty folding chair on the other side. "I said it was what you could call me." Great, not only was my new teacher a vampire, he was one of those cryptic, mysterious ones, too. I crossed my arms and eyed him warily. "Where are we?"
Kanin considered this. "Before I disclose anything about myself," he said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees, "I would like to know a bit more about you. I will be teaching you, after all, and that means we will be spending a great deal of time together. I want to know what I am up against. Are you amenable to this?" I shrugged. "What do you want to know?"
"Your name, first off."
"Allie," I said, then elaborated. "Allison Sekemoto."
"Interesting." Kanin straightened, watching me with intense black eyes. "You know your full name. Not many humans do, anymore."
"My mom taught me."
"Your mother?" Kanin leaned back, crossing his arms. "Did she teach you anything else?"
I bristled. I suddenly didn't want to discuss my mom with this bloodsucker. "Yeah," I said evasively.
He drummed his fingers on his biceps. "Such as?"
"Why do you want to know?"
He ignored the question. "If you wish for me to help you, you will answer me."
"Reading, writing and a little math," I snapped at him.
"Where is your mother now?"
Kanin didn't seem surprised, or shocked at my bluntness.
"And your father?"
"I never knew him."
I shook my head.
"So you have nothing on that side to go back to." Kanin nodded. "Good. That will make things easier. How did she die?"
I narrowed my eyes, about fed up with this interrogation.
"That's none of your business, vampire," I snapped, wanting some emotion to cross his impassive face. Except for a raised eyebrow, his expression remained the same. "Besides, what's it to you? Why should you care about the lives of a couple humans, anyway?"
"I don't," the vampire said and shrugged. "Like I said before, I want to evaluate my chances of success. Humans have a tendency to cling to the past, which can make teaching them difficult. The more attachments a person has, the harder it is to learn to let go when becoming a vampire." I clenched my hands, trying to calm the sudden rage. I would have been tempted to leap up and punch him, ungrateful as that was, if I didn't know he could tear my head off without blinking. "Yeah, well, I'm beginning to regret that decision."
"It's a little late now, don't you think?" Kanin asked softly as he rose. "Take a moment," he said, walking to the door on the opposite wall. "Mourn your past life if you wish, for you will not see it again. When you are ready to learn what it means to be a vampire, come find me." He opened the door and strode through without a backward glance, leaving me alone.
After Kanin left, I sat on the chair, scraped the dried blood off my hands and thought about what I was going to do next.
So. I'm a vampire now. I bristled, trying not to dwell on it-
it was either that or die in the rain. Kanin was right, it was my decision, after all. I'd chosen this. I'd chosen to become undead, to never see the sunlight again, to drink the blood of the living.
I shuddered and kicked the empty bag away. That was the part that bothered me-well, besides the whole undead, soulless-monster thing. I shoved that thought to the back of my mind. Vampires were predators, but maybe there was a way not to feed on humans. Maybe I could survive on animal blood, though the thought of biting into a live, squirming rat was disturbing. Did vampires have to drink human blood, or did they just prefer it? How often did they have to feed? Where and how did they sleep during the day? I realized that, even living in this city for seventeen years, I knew virtually nothing about its most famous citizens except that they drank blood and came out at night.
Well, there is one person who could tell you all about it.
I struggled with myself a moment longer. He was a vampire, but if I was going to survive, then I needed to learn.
Perhaps later, when I had all I needed to know, I would take my revenge for my mom, for Stick, Lucas and everyone else who was taken from me. But right now, I could swallow my pride and start learning how to be undead.
Reluctantly, I pulled myself to my feet and went looking for my new mentor.
The door led into another room that might've been an office once. A few broken chairs were tossed carelessly to the side, and several long metal cabinets lay on the f loor, spilling paper everywhere. Against the far wall, Kanin sat behind a large wooden desk covered in dust and scratches. He glanced up from a stack of folders and raised an eyebrow as I came in.
"I have a few questions," I said, wondering if it was im-proper to ask and then deciding I didn't care. "About vampires, and this whole drinking-blood thing in general." Kanin shut the folder, put it aside and nodded to one of the chairs. I pulled it upright and sat down, resting my arms over the back.
"Let me guess," he said, lacing his hands together. "You're wondering if you have to prey on humans, if you can survive by drinking the blood of animals or other creatures. You're hoping you won't have to kill people to live. Am I right?" I nodded. Kanin smiled bitterly.
"You cannot," he said in a f lat voice, and my heart sank.
"Let me give you your first and most important lesson, Allison Sekemoto-you are a monster. A demon who feeds on human beings to survive. The vampires at the center of the city may look and act and pretend to be civilized, but do not let that fool you. We are monsters, and nothing will change that. And do not think that you can cling to your humanity by drinking the blood of dogs or rats or sheep. It is junk food-garbage.
It will fill you for a time, but it will never sate the Hunger.
And you will soon crave the blood of humans so badly that the mere sight of one will send you into a frenzy, and that human will die, because you will be unable to stop yourself from draining them completely. That is the single most important thing you must understand, before we go any further. You are no longer human. You are a predator, and the sooner you accept that, the easier this life, this existence, will become."
My heart sank even lower. It seemed everything I'd thought about vampires was proving to be right. But I still said, "I'm not going to kill humans to feed on them, I can tell you that now."
"It always starts out that way," Kanin said, and his voice was distant, as if remembering. "Noble intentions, honor among new vampires. Vows to not harm humans, to take only what is needed, to not hunt them like sheep through the night." He smiled faintly. "But it becomes harder and harder to remain on their level, to hold on to your humanity, when all you can see them as is food."
"I don't care." I thought of Stick, of Lucas and even Rat.
They had been friends. People. Not walking blood bags. "I'll be different. I'm sure as hell going to try." Kanin didn't argue. Rising, he stepped around the desk and beckoned with a large pale hand. "Come here." Wary, I stood, edging toward him. "Why? What are we doing?"
"I said I would teach you how to survive as a vampire." He took a single step forward, and I now stood a foot or two away from him, gazing up at his chin. Geez, he was big. His presence was overwhelming. "To live, you must understand the vampire body, how it works, how it endures. Take off your coat."
I did, dropping it on the chair behind me, wondering what he was getting at. In one blindingly quick motion, he grabbed my wrist, yanked my arm up, and slashed it open with that long, bright dagger he carried. Blood welled and streamed from the wound, a second before the pain hit like a hammer.
"Ow! What the hell are you doing? " I tried yanking back, but it was like pulling on a tree. Kanin didn't even twitch.
"Let go, you psychopath! What kind of sick game are you playing?"
"Wait," Kanin ordered, giving my arm a little shake. I gritted my teeth as the vampire held up my wrist. "Look." My arm was a mess, blood everywhere, oozing down my elbow. I could see the wound, the deep, straight gash that probably went to the bone. Psychotic vampire. But as I watched, panting, the wound started to heal, the gaping f lesh drawing together, turning from red to pink to white until only a faint, pale scar remained. And then nothing at all.
I gaped as Kanin released my arm. "We are very difficult to kill," he explained to my shocked expression. "Stronger than humans, faster than humans, and we heal from most anything. This is why we are the perfect predator, but be warned, we are not invincible. Fire harms us, as does any massive trauma. The strongest vampire will not walk away from a bomb going off under his feet. But bullets, knives, clubs, swords-it will hurt, being struck by one, but it will not usually kill us. Although..." He touched my chest. "A wooden stake driven through the heart will not instantly kill us, but it will paralyze and usually send us into hibernation. That is our body's last-ditch effort to survive-it shuts down completely and we are forced into sleep, sometimes for decades, until we can rejoin the living world again." He withdrew his hand. "But to completely destroy a vampire, beheading it or burning it to ash is the only sure way. Are you getting this?"
"Kill a vampire, aim for its head," I muttered. "Got it." The pain was gone now, and there was a gnawing ache in my gut, though I still wanted to learn more. "But why am I bleeding at all?" I wondered, looking up at him. "Do I even have a heartbeat? I thought...I thought I was dead."
I scowled. "I suppose this is a case of death taking a while to kick in, then."
Kanin's expression didn't change. "You are still thinking like a human," he said. "Listen to me, Allison, and keep your mind open. Mortals view death in terms of black and white-you are either alive, or you are not. But between them- between life and death and eternity-there is a small gray area, one that the humans have no knowledge of. That is where we reside, vampires and rabids and a few of the older, inexplicable creatures that still exist in this world. The humans cannot understand us, because we live by a different set of rules."