I wrote this around the same time as Witch Song, but it hasn't had nearly the extensive edits. Still, I think it's a good piece. This is now up for purchase for $1 on Scribed. Click here to buy.
Ashley couldn’t remember a time when she’d been in such total and complete darkness.
She opened her eyes wider. It didn’t help. Turning into the shower spray, she finished rinsing the rest of the conditioner from her hair. She kept waiting for the lights to come back on. They didn’t. “This company retreat is turning into a disaster,” she mumbled.
“A day in the mountains!” her boss had said. “Enjoying the solitude and colors of fall!”
Instead, Ashley had been stuck in a conference room for ten hours. Turning the water off, she jerked the shower curtain back and felt around for the towel she’d set on top of the toilet. She rubbed the rough terry cloth across her face.
Without the sound of the water, she heard something. Unconsciously pressing the towel against her chest she listened. Were those screams?
She padded off of the cold bathroom tile and onto the carpet of her room, hoping some light would filter in from the open window. It didn’t. She grabbed the first piece of clothing her hand touched, a white button up shirt she’d worn to the meeting today. Without bothering to dry off, she yanked it on and shoved the buttons through the holes, not really caring if she got them right or not. The shirt clung to her wet skin as she hiked a pair of jeans over her damp hips.
Screams were echoing up and down the hall now. Not ‘you just scared me’ kind of scream but the terrified, ‘please don’t kill’ me kind of screams. Ashley jerked the hotel phone out of its cradle. Dead. She stumbled around, trying to remember where her cell phone was.
“Ashley!” a man’s voice yelled through her door. “We have to get out of here! Ashley!”
Josh. The man she’d been dating under her boss’s nose for months. Ashley ran for the door, but her shin smacked into the dresser. Clutching her leg and mouthing silent curses, she hobbled forward. Something thudded against her door followed by a mangled scream. The scream gurgled to silence. She froze, too terrified to move or breathe. Garbled, hissing sounds arose from the other side of her door. Some deep instinct within her screamed to run, but her rational mind fought it. In compromise, Ashley backing away
A swift rushing sound. Whatever had been on the other side of her door had just left. “Josh?” her lips mouthed the words, but no sound came out. Reaching out blindly, Ashley felt for the door. Her hand grasped the lever, but she hesitated. Do it fast! You can’t just leave him out there! She jerked open the door. Weren’t there supposed to be emergency lights? Exit signs? But there was nothing. Only complete and utter darkness.
“Josh!” she whispered desperately. Silence, punctuated by distant screams. “Josh,” this time her voice was pleading. She stepped forward and her bare foot stepped on something soft, squishy, and wet. Bending down, she’d felt the outline of a man’s stubbly face. “Are you okay!” she whisper-shouted. But when she tried to feel for a pulse, her hands only felt the hard ridges of his spine. “No!”
“Be quiet!” A woman’s voice hissed.
That’s when she felt it. A rush like a car speeding by her. And then a primal, animal-like wail from the direction of the woman’s voice.
Choking on her own screams, Ashley eased backed. Garbled gurgling and a sound like swallowing. Was it eating her? Though she couldn’t see it, she knew her hands left bloody streaks along the wall as she felt for her door. Sweat popped out on her skin as she fumbled for the lever. Suddenly, there was silence. And then, an unearthly low growl and bright yellow eyes gleaming through the darkness.
It had noticed her.
She jerked the handle down. The door gave way. She stumbled backwards into the room. She couldn’t help the terror that tore through her throat as she hit the floor. She kicked the shut. Something crashed into the metal. It jumped on its hinges. Jumping to her feet, Ashley slid the bolt home with a solid click. She pressed her body against it. The thing on the other side of the door pushed and shoved. Something sharp screeched down the other side. The vibrations screamed through her body.
Bang! The metal door bulge beneath her. Bang! The hinges groaned. Unable to bear it, she scrambled to the other side of the room, pressed herself flat against the wall and waited for the third hit. The hit that would bring the door down and let whatever it was in the room.
She still wasn’t sure what it was.
But then she heard another woman’s voice screaming, “Help!” The banging stopped. The cries for help intensified before turning to screams of pain. Ashley considered pushing the bed, the dressers, everything against the door. But then it would hear her. And furniture wasn’t going to stop it.
Moving as quietly as she could, she’d felt her way along the bed until she reached the nightstand. A clinking sound as her fingers brushed across her keys. She froze, listening. But the meal going on outside didn’t pause. Gripping her keys, she felt for the tiny blue flashlight that dangled from her keychain. She removed it but didn’t dare press the button that turned it on. Not yet.
She peered out the window, but there was no fire escape. Nothing but a three story drop. Pressing her back into the corner, she slid down, clutching the keys like a weapon and the tiny flashlight as her saving grace.
How long she sat, huddled in the corner, praying that it wouldn’t find her as she listened to their screams, she would never know. Always it was the same. One, terrified scream followed by near silence. Near because she could hear the soft sounds of eating. The scrape of teeth against bone. Swallowing.
Sweat ran down her face, but she didn’t dare brush it away. Didn’t dare move more than it took for a shallow breath. Another scream erupted. So close she jumped and covered her ears with her hands, clenching her eyes shut tight. Much closer than the last one. She could smell blood, salty and moist.
If she hadn’t been in the shower, she would have run out the door, just like they all had. Then she would be one of them. The ones who were screaming or dead. She shot a look at the window. If it came in her room, she’d jump. She’d take the risk of a three story fall crushing her body rather than enduring it.
The screams grew less frequent. Ashley didn’t relax. Didn’t fool herself into thinking it was over. They were searching for those, like her, who were hiding.
Eventually, the complete darkness began to ease. She could see the outlines of her room, slightly. The stars were peeking through the cloud cover. She heard another sound. Scrapping outside her window. Her back against the wall, she pushed herself up, gripping her biggest key, and preparing to turn on the flashlight.
The glass shattered, sending shards everywhere.
She flicked on the light and brandished the key, prepared to strike. Before her, bathed in blue light, was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. He was crouched on the ground, looking at her with glowing yellow eyes. Their gazes locked. And Ashley knew. He wasn’t a man, but some kind of monster.
His gaze ripped from hers and darted to the door. He moved so fast he was little more than a blur. Before she could strike with her key, she was thrown over his shoulder and they were falling. The pavement rose up to meet them. She pinched her eyes shut, unwilling to watch death coming towards her. She tensed for the impact. But the man absorbed it easily and bounded forward.
The clouds must have uncovered the moon, for when she opened her eyes, she caught glimpses of them shooting past things at unbelievable speeds. Unable to stop herself, she gripped his leather coat and tried not to think about anything. Finally, he stopped and eased her to the ground. She scrambled away from him until her back rested against a tree.
There were others here. Other’s like here. Coworkers from her past life. She looked up at the creature that had hauled her away. But he wasn’t looking at her anymore. He had turned to another like himself. “She’s the last one left we’ll have time to save.”
One, a female with long blonde hair. Another male with chestnut hair. All were exceedingly pale. “Do they know we took them?” asked the blonde.
The man who’d taken her shook his head, his hair as black and shiny as his leather coat. He was tall, long and lean. His adam’s apple worked up and down as his seductive voice flowed from his mouth. “None of them saw me.”
The other two seemed relieved. The man who had taken Ashley looked down at her. One of her coworkers gripped her hand. Ashley held on until her knuckles bleached white. He squatted down, as an adult does when speaking with a child. “Did any of them see you?” The other’s all shook their heads. Ashley didn’t. His golden eyes bored into hers. “Did they see you?”
“I . . . I don’t know,” she stammered and her voice sounded strange to her own ears. “It was so dark.”
He held up his hand for her to stop. “But one of them might have?”
Her lips pressed together in a tight line, she nodded.
He twisted back to the others and something unspoken passed between them. They picked up her coworkers by their shoulders and looked into their eyes. Ashley watched in amazement as the others slowly collapsed. Her captors eased them to the ground. When all were unconscious heaps, the blonde nodded to the one with black hair. “They won’t remember any of it, Drake.”
The one who’d taken her, Drake, turned to her.
Ashley made her way to her feet, never taking her eyes from them. I will not be afraid, she told herself. After all, there’s nothing I can do to escape them. “You’re vampires, aren’t you?”
None of them answered.
“Why did you save me?”
“Because we don’t kill anymore,” said the woman.
Ashley winced at the word ‘anymore.’
Drake spoke, “If they saw you, they’ll come looking for you. There are only three of us to their eight.”
“What are you going to do with me?”
Drake continued as if she hadn’t spoken, “It’s an issue of pride for them that no one ever escapes. They’ll never stop hunting you. Even if we manage to get you out, they will find you. Eventually. You can become one of us or take chances. You choose.”
Ashley stumbled back, staring at each of them in turn. “A vampire!” She looked in the direction of the hotel as she remembered the sounds of the other vampires, devouring those she had known. Josh. Tears sprang to her eyes. “I can’t become that!”
Bitterness and self loathing evident on his face, Drake looked away. “You don’t have to kill.”
“Then why do they?”
He looked back at her. “Because, while animal blood can keep us alive, it does nothing to satiate the drive. It takes self control and a deep loathing for murder. None of which they posses.”
“Drake,” the brown haired vampire spoke. “They’re coming for her.”
Drake turned back to Ashley. “Make your choice. Do you become the hunted or the huntress?”
Her heart pounding, she looked back to the hotel and saw something that resembled streaks of wind moving through the trees. Which did she fear more? A death by vampires, or to become one of them? “Will it hurt?”
“And if not, I die?”
“I do not want to live in terror for what time remains me.”
“Is that a yes?”
With a roar, Drake lunged at her and she felt sharp fangs pierce her neck. It was like someone had poured liquid fire into her veins. She arched her back as a scream tore through her throat. Arms scooped scoop her up. They started running again.
“Where?” she forced the words from her lips.
“I’m taking you somewhere more defensible. The others will take the humans somewhere safe.” She felt his cool breath against her skin. “If you survive the change, it will be over by morning.”
Eventually, the set her down in a shallow cave. Ashley’s body felt as though it had been dumped in a vat of acid. Smoke rose from her skin. It burned her eyes and singed her lungs. The other’s held her down, gripping her wrists and ankles as she screamed. Her skin turned a mottled red as the heat burned everything that was human from her.
The fading of the pain was gradual. So much so that she only noticed because her cries went down in octaves before slowly fading altogether. She slept then. When she awoke, it was as though she were an infant again. Everything looked different. Sharper, clearer. Senses that were dull and dim before now shone in perfect clarity.
She looked through the trees and found that she could focus her eyes like a telescope, zeroing in on the smallest detail until she could see the outlines of rocks on the moon’s surface. She could smell subtleties on the air currents—subtleties she could differentiate with ease. The strongest and sweetest of these the heady aroma of blood. She bolted from a rocky ground and lunged forward with the grace of a lion.
Drake crouched in the cave entrance, blocking her path. “If you never taste it, it will be much easier to deny yourself.”
Rage coursed through her body. She felt a feral growl rumble in her chest. “I must feed!”
“The first few days are the worst. If you can get through them, it will become bearable.”
Ashley lunged for his throat. He twisted away. Grabbing her wrist and the back of her neck, he shoved her against the cave walls.
The rough walls bit into her cheek. Drake’s leather jacket brushed against her white shirt—the same one she’d thrown on after her shower. She screamed and tried to break free.
He pressed his mouth against her ear. “Remember what it’s like to be human! Remember huddling in a corner and listening to them feed! REMEMBER!” Ashley again felt the ridges of Joshen’s spine beneath her fingertips. She tasted the same terror on her tongue.
“If you murder, it will haunt you!”
Ashley went limp. Slowly Drake eased away, but he remained taut as he watched her. Oh! But she was so hungry! She groaned as the smell of blood in the distance teased her, beckoned her, promised her pleasure unending! She felt cool metal pressed to her lips and smelled blood. Not human blood, but blood all the same. “Here, this will help.” He was right. It did.
She gulped it down hungrily. “More.”
He chuckled as he poured it into the cup. “You’re going to do just fine.”
Ashley sat in the sunlight streaming in from the cave opening. “I thought vampires turned to stone in sunlight.”
Drake hadn’t been more than a step away since she’d awoken. “Vampires hunt on the darkest nights because it hides us. And because we see as clearly at night as during the day, not because the sunlight hurts us.”
“But you fight the vampires that hunt humans?”
He shook his head. “No. Think of us as the vampire police. We hunt the ones who break the rules. If there aren’t enough of us to stop them, we save the ones we can.”
“And crosses, holy water, silver bullets?”
He laughed outright. Ashley noted his deep dimples. “Well, technically, silver bullets are supposed to kill werewolves, but that doesn’t work on them either.”
“There are werewolves?” she gaped.
She could tell he was trying very hard to control his laughter. “Of course.”
“So how do you kill a vampire?”
“The bite that creates is also the bite that kills. Vampire fights never last long. The first one to break the skin with their teeth is the winner.”
Ashley swallowed hard, trying to ignore the sudden spike of hunger that came with the scent of some far off human. Drake watched her like a hawk until the wind shifted.
“Why don’t the humans know?” she gasped, desperate for anything to distract herself.
Drake didn’t take his eyes off her. “There are rules. Paramount among them secrecy. Second is no taking of children. Third is no creation without authorization.”
“Creation?” Ashley asked.
“I am your creator. I will have to seek approval for my actions from the Council. If they disagree with what I did, you will be destroyed.”
Ashley felt her ever muscle on edge, ready to flee if she must.
“Don’t worry,” he grunted. “They’ll approve it.”
She relaxed against the wall. “Killing humans isn’t against the rules?”
Drake shook his head. “As long as it doesn’t attract attention, it is permissible. Vampires attract prey like moths to a flame. We are alluring to humans. Beautiful, intoxicating. It’s easy enough to find the loners, the ones no one will miss. They don’t even put up a fight when you lure them in right. What happened at the resort is different entirely. It’s called a feeding frenzy and is strictly forbidden. Those vampires are part of a group we have been tracking for months.” He looked at her evenly. “Their murders threaten to expose us.”
“And now you have a decision, Ashley. The vampires who attacked the hotel—they’re still here.”
Ashley jerked upright. “You said they’d leave me alone if I was turned.”
Drake was slow to answer. “You misunderstand. The rogue vampires outnumber us. We could use your help taking them down.”
Ashley closed her eyes. She remembered their screams. The slick feel of Josh’s blood on her hands. She thought of all she’d lost. Mother. Father. Sister. Brother. Friends. She opened her eyes. “Count me in.”
Drake pulled her to her feet. He wetted his thumb on his tongue and then pressed it to her forehead. “I mark you a Huntress. Keeper of the great Secret.”
A sick wave washed over her, and she noticed that her scent had changed. Subtly, but still. “What was that about.”
Drake smiled. “Call it our badge.”
Ashley shook if off. “So now I’m some sort of vampire cop?”
The breeze shifted. Drake stiffened and turned toward it. It took Ashley a moment more to process the smells it brought. Dried blood. “The vampires.”
Drake took off into the night.
Ashley watched him. Huntress, she thought. I like it. She ran after him.