Kanin stopped at the edge of the pit and calmly assessed his surroundings. My demon was intrigued by Jackal’s suggested approach, anything to get us into the house sooner, but the Master vampire suddenly leaped the twenty-foot trench like it was a crack on the sidewalk, landing gracefully on the other side without impaling himself on the spikes. Grasping the thick iron bars in front of the window, he pulled them apart with as much effort as bending a wire and slid through the opening. Jackal snorted.
“Or you could do that, I suppose.”
We followed Kanin into the house, jumping over the trench, somehow avoiding the bristling spikes waiting on the other side, and sliding through the window. The interior was sparse and clean, with wooden floors and old, simple furniture, a bed of hot embers glowing in the hearth. We had come into what looked like a living room, with a kitchen off to the side, a dark hallway next to that, and a staircase to the second floor in the center of the room. I took a deep breath and caught the mingling scents of smoke and cut wood, livestock and dirt, and the distinct smell of warm-blooded creatures. The Hunger awoke with a vengeance, and I stifled an eager growl, feeling my fangs burst through my gums.
Kanin, a dark figure against the wall, gestured at us to be silent, his eyes hard. I bit my lip, trying to calm down, though the Hunger refused to be ignored, now that prey was so close.
The Master vampire pointed two fingers down the hallway, then again up the stairs. Four humans: two on the first floor and another two upstairs. All asleep. All thinking this fortified house would keep them safe.
From rabids, perhaps. But not from me.
Jackal shot me a hard yellow glare that very obviously meant don’t follow me and stalked away down the hall, making no noise on the wooden floor. I watched him go, relieved that he was staying out of my way, and headed toward the staircase in the center of the room. I felt Kanin watching me as I started up the stairs, but between the Hunger and the anticipation of the end of the hunt, I barely noticed him.
I glided up the staircase, silent as a ghost, and the Hunger grew stronger with every step I took. Until it was a dark, raging fire within, consuming me. My fangs pressed against my bottom lip, eager to rip and tear, to find a human and release the hot flood of power that pulsed through its veins.
So many times, I’d pushed down the Hunger, denying my nature and the monster within. The old Allison, desperately fighting to stay human.
No longer. I was a vampire, and I knew the outcome of this hunt. It was so easy to release my human conscience and emotions, to let the monster guide the way. I didn’t know why I’d been so stubborn. Trying to remain human had brought nothing but pain. I would not open myself up to that kind of hurt again.
At the top of the stairs, another narrow hall stretched before me, with two identical wooden doors sitting across from each other. One was halfway open, revealing a bathroom.
The other was firmly closed, but even through the wood, I heard the faint sounds of snoring.
I smiled. Walking up to the door, I turned the handle and gave it a soft push. It swung back with a creak, revealing a small bedroom cloaked in shadow. A dresser, a mirror and a closet stood against one wall, two grimy, barred windows on the other. Pale moonlight filtered through ragged curtains and touched the foot of a large bed in the corner. I could see a lump beneath the covers, a head resting on the pillow, dark hair spilling over the edge. The Hunger surged up with a roar.
Stepping into the room, I closed the door behind me with a faint click. It was all I could do to control myself, to not fly across the room with a snarl and sink my fangs into that exposed neck, ripping it open, spilling hot blood onto the white sheets. But Kanin would disapprove of a violent, bloody massacre, and besides, I would not let the Hunger overtake my will this time. I might be a monster, but I was not an animal.
With deliberate steps, I walked across the room until I stood at the edge of the mattress, gazing down. A woman lay there, long hair unbound, breathing peacefully. Her face, though young, was lined and haggard, her forehead creased in a faint, consistent frown. I stood there, my shadow falling over the bed, watching my prey sleep, feeling the Hunger blaze like fire through my veins. I felt it beating the edges of my mind, howling at me to feed, to rip my prey apart and paint the sheets in blood. And still, I waited.
The moment I knew I could turn and walk away, leave the room and its occupant unharmed, I struck.
Gently pushing the long hair aside, being careful not to wake my prey, I parted my lips, dropped down, and sank my fangs into the side of her neck.
She stiffened for the briefest of moments, a tiny gasp escaping, before slumping deeper into the pillow and the near delirium of a vampire’s bite. Hot, glorious blood filled my mouth, and I growled in ecstasy, sinking my fangs in deeper.
The Hunger raged as I drank in my prey, wanting more, always more. Never satisfied. I reached the point where I’d be sated for another two weeks, where the Hunger would be demanding and constant, but not overpowering. Where, if I drew back and left now, my prey would be weakened and tired from blood loss, but still alive.
I closed my eyes…and kept going. Continued feeding, never wanting to stop. Warmth and power filled me, intoxicating and overwhelming, and I didn’t resist. The demon and the Hunger approved, howling in glee, stifling any feelings of guilt or remorse I might’ve felt. Kanin would be displeased that I’d killed this mortal, drained it to an empty husk, but I’d already disappointed him beyond repair. The one person I’d wanted to keep my humanity for was gone. I might as well succumb to my base instincts once and for all and accept that, no matter what I did, I would always be a monster.
The human grew pale beneath me, the skin taking on a deathly pallor. She made a tiny, breathy sound, a name breathed through pallid lips, as if she was lost in a nightmare.
And, for just a moment, a tiny flicker of shame, of uncertainty, cut through the icy darkness within. I ignored it, sank my fangs in deeper, and continued to feed. This would be over soon. There’d be no more nightmares after this.
The muffled voice that came through the doorway was barely more than a whisper, but it gave me just enough of a warning. Retracting my fangs, I swiftly sealed the puncture wounds by pressing my tongue to my victim’s throat, just as the handle behind me clicked and turned. As the door began to creak open, I rose, swept across the room with vampire speed and grace, and ducked into the closet.
Later, as I reflected on my actions, I didn’t know why I’d chosen to run, to hide. Maybe it was guilt after all, not wanting anyone to see me prey on a human. The shame of what I had to do to live. Or maybe it was just habit now. But I pulled the door shut behind me, leaving only a narrow strip to see through, and hovered there in the darkness. A literal monster in the closet, watching and waiting.