She backed up slowly, breathing hard. There was no where else to run- nothing to hide behind. Not that she had expected there to be. He was closing in, slowly, his eyes glowing red with his desire, his fangs bared. She was too tired to scream, too resigned to fight any longer. Her throat was sore from her previous cries, and now she knew that there was no one close enough to come to her aid. She was too weary to hold him off any longer, but she still warred against it. Her mind still tried to deny
the truth, still tried to convince her that there was some way to escape. Her heart pounded out a frantic beat- her vision blurred, and turned red. I woke with a start, cold sweat was beaded on my forehead, and I was breathing hard. Shaking my head I relaxed. It was just a dream, nothing more. There was no reason for such fear. I couldn’t even remember what my dream had been about. Closing my eyes I tried to go back to sleep, it was still hours until I should have woken, and I couldn’t afford another sleepless night. Considering the tests that awaited me didn’t sooth my mind any more than considering my continual nightmares did. Finals… the very thought sent shudders down my spine. Maybe that was all I had dreamt about, the finals and how abysmally I thought I was going to do on them. It felt like hours before I finally gave up on the dim prospect of sleep. I had known from the start that there was no point to it, not with a cold knot of ice resting in my belly. Glancing at my alarm clock I sighed. It was only 2AM. I kicked off my blankets in disgust. Weren’t teenagers supposed to sleep twenty-four-seven? I dressed quickly, and went downstairs to get a bowl of cereal. My parents were probably used to my early morning snacks by now, and didn’t stir as I crept passed their room. Bringing a bowl of frosted mini wheats back up to my bedroom I sat down with my algebra book. x+34=2x-8, mentally I tried to solve the problem, and sighed. Math was not, and never had been my strong suite. Feeling only moderately more prepared I walked downstairs carrying my bowl when my mother called us for breakfast. I was still hungry, and glad that my mom still made us breakfast every morning. Jason was sitting at the table, shoveling eggs and toast down his throat with hardly a pause to chew. Mom turned away from the toaster to greet me, and glared at the bowl in my hand. “It’s not good for you to eat at night.” It was not the first time. “Yeah Rose!” Jason said, grinning. “No food at night.” I stuck my tongue out at him. I knew very well that he kept a box of fruit chews and a bag of M&Ms under his bed specifically for late night snacking. If only my parents had realized that giving the boy an Xbox 360 and halo 3 for his birthday had been a bad idea. Maybe someday the cave dweller would get lonely with only hostile covenant aliens keeping him company- but I doubted it. “Sorry mom, exam day, I couldn’t sleep.” Her expression softened. My mom was really great, she was the kind of person who knew exactly what to say when you needed something said, and when she just needed to shut up and let you vent. I couldn’t have asked for better. Plus she was as bad at test taking as I was, she understood my test anxiety. “Well eat your breakfast then, I don’t want to add hunger to your worries today.” I smiled gratefully and sat down. Just to spite Jason I commented on how good the eggs were- he glared at me over an overfull mouth and I sniggered. 7 passed all too quickly into 8, and the bus was unusually punctual. I grabbed my backpack, hugged mom, waved to my brother and stepped outside. Cold was a fact of life here, and I used the chill to distract from the algebra exam that awaited me first thing this morning. Inside the heated bus I had no buffer. Luckily I was one of the last people on the lengthy route and so didn’t have long to entertain myself with horror stories. My personal favorite was failing the test and being forced to take all my least favorite courses a second time. We crawled into the parking lot at Carawin High, and filed out into the sudden drizzle. I wondered whether the horrid weather was a sign. My best friend, who looked at least as frantic as I felt, ran up to give me a quick hug. At least she had good reason to be nervous; she was in all honors classes. I was stuck in the bozo courses, and I was still stressing it. “Good luck Lilly.” She smiled, “Same to you Rose.” It had once been a great source of amusement that the both of us were named after flowers. She hurried away, as always conscientious of the coming tardy bell, and I sprinted off at high speed myself. It was maybe the third time this semester I would be on time, but I wanted to be on time, if I wasn’t I’d lose a letter grade on my already poor test grade. (Well I was certain it was going to be a poor grade, but I didn’t actually know…) I just made it, sitting in my desk as the bell rang. For once the whole class was stiflingly silent, and we stared at the white board with apprehension. The instructions were clear, but that didn’t make us feel any better about it. Do not open your tests until you are told to do so. Do not draw or write outside the given space. Show all work. When you are done flip your test over and read quietly. No Talking. Clear, concise, normal. Still the icy knot grew and I was forced to swallow a lump in my throat. Mrs. Mallory walked up and down the aisles, handing each person their test without a word. We all set them on out desks without so much as a glance at the first page. Mrs. Mallory was actually a decently fun teacher, even if I did hate her subject, but when it came to test taking and rules there was no one stricter. “Begin.” I sighed with relief when I saw that the whole first page was multiple choice. Or multiple guess as the case may be. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. The morning passed with aching slowness. I barely had the energy to drag my feet down for lunch, and there was another three exams to take (and pass) that afternoon. Luckily for me one of them was in drama, and I was almost certain that I could ace any impromptu exam we might have in that class. Unfortunately it also included my social studies class, and my teacher was notorious for quizzing you on minute details and dates, in other words a D was an optimistic goal. Lilly ran up to me, bouncing with exuberance. “How did you do? I think I did pretty well, though I know that I missed the third question in Language Arts. The answer was foreshadowing, I put down symbolism. But other than that… Rose, are you ok?” I was staring at her blankly. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten Lilly’s tendency to spend test days actually talking about tests. Her most annoying trait, but perversely, also one of the most helpful and relaxing. She was talking all the way to our normal table, and I needed only to nod my head or grunt at the right points to keep her going. There was something soothing about her voice, and I was content to let her speak as much as she wanted. Liam walked up behind me just as I took my first bite. He was good at the sort of thing. I almost choked. “How are you girls doing?” He asked, I hated him for the light pleasant tone he assumed. I could just see the amused expression on his face. He was two years older than us, and, despite being in normal classes, was really good at tests. He could have gone to a genius school but hadn’t wanted to. He was the kind of person who liked to coast by on the middle ground. “I’m fine.” I hissed, once my throat was functional, and they both laughed. “Still stressing I see.” Sitting down next to me he grinned at Lilly. “Think she’ll ever relax?” “Doubtful.” I shot Lilly a reproachful glare, and she shrugged. “I am not stressing. I am merely concerned for my GPA and little things like passing!” Liam struggled no to giggle. “Trifles.” “Says Mr. four-point-0.” I muttered turning red. He just shrugged; his perfect grade point average mattered about as much as an ant in his world. It was hard not to hate him for it. “So, you two up for the mall after school? I’ll drive.” Technically it was not legal for him to drive with two other minors in his car, but it had never stopped us before. Plus there wasn’t a cop alive that could find a good reason to pull him over. Liam was conscientious about driving laws, and careful. “Sure.” I said, but Lilly looked a little uncomfortable. “I guess…” “What’s wrong?” “I’m supposed to go to piano today.” “I thought your mom cancelled, she didn’t want you to overwork yourself remember?” “Still, I shouldn’t miss…” “It’s not missing if you’re excused.” Liam said firmly. Lilly always bowed to his experience and authority in these things, partially because his grades at least matched hers, and he was a talented pianist. What wasn’t Liam talented at? “Okay.” He smiled, and I relaxed. Tests or no tests it was nice to be at school, if only because my two favorite people were almost inevitably there. Compared to the glacial slowness of my morning our forty-five minute lunch passed all too quickly. Almost in the blink of an eye I found myself hugging them goodbye and rushing to my dreaded social studies exam. I hit my locker when, for the third time this week, it refused to open. Sighing I slumped against it. I was tired, irritated, and in no mood to deal with a temperamental locker. “Problems?” Liam’s honey-like voice made me jump, and he laughed. As always. “Yeah, again.” I turned to dial to the three numbers of my combination; he already had them memorized so there was no point in hiding it. Once again it refused to open. Once again the red metal was met by the palm of my hand. I was kind of impressed that it had yet to dent. Liam reached forward, and I stepped aside, knowing what was to come. Smoothly, and so quickly that I couldn’t see what number he actually landed on, he put in a combination, and the locker swung open. I cursed, loudly. It was a very good thing the hall monitor was my friend, otherwise I’d be spending more time in detention than I cared to think about. “Try 35, 14, 42 next time, I think they got your locker’s combo mixed up with mine.” “What? Why?” “Because ever since the first day when you showed me yours that is the one I’ve been using and every time you have problems opening your locker I use my combo.” He said simply. I glared. “And it took you four months to tell me this?” “Your lock’s bad, the wrong combo works about half the time, I couldn’t be sure.” “Great, who knows who could get into my locker?” I pulled my backpack out and slammed the stupid thing shut. Liam stooped and picked something up off the ground. I looked at him curiously when he straightened. “This fell out.” He said, offering a white sealed envelope. “Hi guys!” Lilly called, running up behind us. “What’s that?” She pointed at the letter. I shrugged, and so did Liam. I went to open it, hoping that it wasn’t another stupid love poem from Denis Trap, and hesitated. The envelope was sealed with wax, not the glue under the flap. Liam palled, and Lilly, who had only lived here for a couple years, looked confused. She wouldn’t know, most of the country didn’t know because it wasn’t something people liked to talk about. They weren’t secret, everyone knew the truth of their existence, but only those towns close by knew what that bright red wax meant. To Liam, who had lived here his whole life, it was familiar, and frightening. “Don’t worry about it Lilly, it’s just a letter from my aunt, she’s a little eccentric.” It was a bad lie, but how was I supposed to tell the truth? What was I supposed to say? It wasn’t supposed to happen to people you actually knew, just the rare person who you barely recognized, or the people the skirted the outer edges of society. It wasn’t supposed to happen to you, or your best friend. And it wasn’t supposed to happen to someone that close to you when you didn’t even know what was going on. It was so unfair. It hadn’t even hit me that it was me it was happening to only that it was unfair that it should happen to me the first time Lilly ever saw. So unfair. “Come on, the mall wont wait forever.” Liam said, recovering quickly. I slipped the letter into my bag. Lilly didn’t notice that anything was wrong. That was another nice thing about Lilly, she was clever, but she was no good at all at recognizing social cues, or she just knew when to pretend she hadn’t noticed. We dropped Lilly off at her house around five-ish, and I moved to the front seat. “You want me to come over to your place, or do you want to go to mine?” Liam asked. He knew I didn’t want to be alone when I read it. “You should probably come over to mine. My dad might have a heart attack if he finds out I was over at your place without asking.” Liam gave a half smile. “He might at that.” Liam was always welcome over, my mom adored him and my dad thought he was a ‘fine young man’, plus his parents thought he was old enough to be responsible for himself. As long as he never had to call them for bail money he was allowed to do pretty much whatever her pleased. Lilly only lived a block or two from my house, so it was a short drive. Liam parked on the curb, and we walked inside. It was so strange- silence was unheard of with the two of us. I walked in and wiped my shoes on the rug. Liam did the same, taking his off before he stepped onto the painfully clean hardwood floor. “Liam’s here.” I called. “Cool.” Came Jason’s sarcastic reply from the den of all things first-person-shooter. Mom, rather than calling a reply came out from the kitchen and hugged him. Had I not been used to this I would’ve turned crimson. “Good to see you! How did testing go?” “Fine Mrs. Kelledy. Thanks for asking.” “And you, Rose? Think you did ok?” “I did fine mom, I only got hung up on like three questions all day.” I almost winced at the sheer teenager-ish-ness of the statement. Luckily mom didn’t seem to notice the change from my normal speech. Liam did, of course. He glanced at me, but had the good sense not to comment. Lilly may be my best friend, but Liam had known me infinitely longer. Once free of my mother, who practically glowed when Liam asked what the wonderful smell coming from the kitchen was, and there by gained invitation to dinner, we trooped upstairs. My room was comfortably small, just big enough for a desk, bed, dresser, and a butterfly chair. I didn’t have the room, or desire, for a TV and game console like my brother, and was actually quiet fond of the dark walls and one window my perpetually dim room offered. Not that you could tell considering all of the posters and paintings the covered those walls. Liam settled on the chair, and I on my bed. Silence reigned. Finally Liam spoke. “Well, you have to read it at some point.” I nodded and drew out the white envelope. There was only two possibilities really- neither one good. Still I held my breath, one was better than the other after all. The seal was as brightly red as the first one I’d seen, some three years before. A boy that time, and he had brought it to school with him. None of us liked to be alone when we actually saw what such a letter said, and few were brave enough to tell their parent’s straight off. I hadn’t known him; he was one of the Goth theater types, back when I was still unsure about drama. His jet black hair and even darker clothes had always distracted me from him, despite an actually rather pretty, lean face and more than pretty wiry body. He had been panicked, and I hadn’t even known what it meant. Liam had, his brother had been taken some two years even before that. He had explained. And I had been as horrified as the boy’s friends as he opened the letter and read it aloud. I’d never seen him again, or at least never recognized him if I had. Now Liam sat with me as I broke the seal, and pulled out the whitish parchment. Rose Kelledy was inked on the front of the folded paper in handwriting that was both flowery and slightly spiky. There was no mistaking my name, and my last hopes that maybe the letter had not been meant for me melted away. Liam held out his hand, and I placed the letter in it. His face was expressionless. I wondered what he was thinking; he had seen more of these than anyone I knew. He had lost more to them than anyone I knew. He looked at the name, and nodded slowly. He handed the letter back without opening it. It crackled as I opened it, and I was glad of the quiet music I had playing. If anyone was close enough to hear us they would catch nothing more than garbled words and the melody of music. It wasn’t as long as I was expecting, and I didn’t know whether that was good or bad. Lightening crackled outside. The storm had only gotten worse since this morning. Rose Kelledy. As you know there is a vampire academy near here. And as you know this is a refuge not only for vampires but also for the Promised- those who will become vampires. You now rank among the Promised. We request that you move to our facilities as soon as possible. Sincerely, Annabella Serene. One of the Promised. The prospect alone was frightening. It meant that one of the prophets of the vampires of the hall had seen me, as a vampire. Or, worse, seen me being attacked by one of their own. I let the paper drop to my lap. Annabella Serene. She was a pureblooded vampire. A vampire born of the union between vampires. She was a High vampire on top of this- a member of the high council that ruled over vampires, kept them under control. The same High Council that had originally contracted the Hunters, those that went after rogues, kept these creatures that were so much more powerful than we under control in reality, rather than just making the laws that they must follow. Vampires had been known to exist since just after my birth, and all those legends about them and sunlight, crosses, and stakes were utter bs. They were real, and they were practically indistinguishable from humans. They had lived among us for centuries, almost entirely undetected, after all. But they did need blood. And they were technically dead. No pulse, no detectable brain waves, and while the purebloods and those that were born vampires did grow till they were fully mature, they were immortal. Some Promises change as well, some Promises, for some unknown reason, gained blood rank when they change. No one knew why, but Promises occasionally joined in aristocracy simply because their blood, their lineage, gave them power. And then there were the people who were attacked senselessly, the people who were never Seen, never became one of the Promised. They almost always grew out of control, and they were hunted down, every single time, without exception. “Don’t go.” I looked up; I had almost forgotten the Liam was there. He looked almost angry. “They can’t make you, not until after they know when you’ll turn, and even then maybe they can’t. There’s no reason for you to leave, nothing that should make anything different yet. Being a Promise isn’t exactly something new is it? You’re born that way, its just you’ve only now found out. You don’t have to act like anything is different. Not yet.” I had never seen Liam like this. He was always so laid back, like nothing could shake him. Now though, there was something different, something that was as afraid as it was pissed. “Liam?” he stood and crossed the room, which admittedly wasn’t hard, he covered it in three steps. Have I mentioned that Liam was tall? Like almost had to duck in most rooms tall. So even though it wasn’t hard for him to cover the distance it was intimidating. I was half afraid, but then he bent down and hugged me. He’d done this before of course. As Lilly put it we were about as far away from dating as any two people could get while still being completely in love with each other. And his hugs were a comfort- they always had been. He was tall enough that he seemed to envelope me, like there was nothing else in the world but the two of us. I had always loved the feeling, like all he had to do was touch me and I was safe. This time it was different though. It felt like this time he wasn’t just hugging me to show affection or comfort me, this time he needed comfort every bit as much as I did. I hugged back fiercely. I was scared, but it was like he said, it was horrible and frightening, but just because I was only now learning of it didn’t make it new. It made me feel a little better to know that no matter what I did this always would have happened. It wasn’t my fault, and no one could imagine it was. I don’t know how long we stayed like that. Time faded away so that we could have been there hours, or only seconds. All I know is that when he released me the world was somewhat right again. It wasn’t as new and strange as I’d feared, and I was almost certain that whatever was to come I could deal. He knelt and wiped his thumb across my cheek. “Don’t cry.” I hadn’t realized I was. But even as I opened my mouth to say that I wasn’t that I was fine another sob racked my body. Liam smiled as if he knew what was going through my head, standing he walked to the door and just stood there, looking away. I didn’t know how to thank him. When I was under control and my face wasn’t so reddened and puffy we went downstairs. Dad still wasn’t home, he was working late. But that didn’t throw either my mom or my brother. They were used to it. So we talked, all of us, though I was quieter than normal. Liam more than made up for it though. I could tell he was working hard at it, but he was exuberant. His whole demeanor was rich and lively. He complimented my mom more than once on the quality of her cooking, and talked avidly with my brother about the pros and cons of games like Halo and Left4Dead. I actually found myself having a good time and smiling all-round. Liam left right after dinner, saying that he was sorry, but he really had to get home. That was more for my mom’s benefit than mine. I knew that his parents wouldn’t mind if he showed up at midnight. It must be nice to have a 4.0 and easygoing folks. Suddenly more tired even than waking up and 2 could account for I told Mom that was going to go to bed early and went upstairs. Even in my pj’s and under the comforter I’d had since I was eight. I couldn’t still my mind enough to allow for sleep. As a result I lay awake, with my eyes resolutely closed, until long after even the distance sounds of my brother killing his aliens and zombies had faded into silence. My exhausted body eventually demanded that my overworked mind pay its dues though, and I got one of my first full nights of sleep in a long time.