The taste of blood far sweeter than I could have ever imagined, it remained on the tip of my tongue as though taking up residence. The lingering memory of the woman from whom I drank burned upon my soul as an everlasting tribute, the experience without parallel even if I did not have much with which I could compare it.
Regardless of how hard I tried, I still did not recall who this man named Peter had been prior to waking. A fleeting recollection of Lydia remained the sole concept I possessed of who I was, and even that painted a grim picture. I saw myself crying toward the night sky, expressing remorse over the fatal wounds I had inflicted, but another piece to the puzzle provided a sharp contrast to my tear-stained repentance. The sight of blood; I remembered slitting the throat of the man in Lydia’s bed and knew I had enjoyed it. My vampire instincts reveled in it, taking hold of it as proof Sabrina was right. I was born to be a killer.
That moment marked the genesis of a dichotomy.
The seed planted did not bear fruit immediately. At first, the gaping, black holes forming my past life were a wide enough berth for the fledgling vampire to roam free. My new condition had me far too enamored to lament the absence of my past recollections and as such, I merely lived within the moment, with no thought or reservation given over to what I did. Blood seared my conscience, cauterizing it from the start.
The morning following my awakening, I returned to my new quarters after a night spent becoming acquainted with the other immortals in the coven. More crimson was spilled, and wine and decadence teased me with a hint of nights to come.
It should be noted none of this would have been possible without a pair of sunglasses. Before Sabrina presented me to the others, we had tested the lights only to discover they continued to burn my eyes, something which both surprised and yet did not surprise my mistress all at once. When asked about it, she said, “This just makes you unique,” before turning to Rose – the female member of the silent jury – and asking her to fetch the darkest lenses she could find.
She received no help from Michael in the venture, which started to become a trend. The next evening, it was Sabrina who entered my room after the siren call of night threw my eyes open and woke the thirst within me. By the time she arrived, my fangs ached and I could not retract them. My eyes immediately gravitated toward what she held as the scent of blood became pervasive throughout the room.
“My young one hungers,” Sabrina said fondly the moment she saw my condition. She sat beside me and handed over a goblet filled to the brim with that thick, scarlet liquid I now worshipped. I consumed it with vigor, drinking each drop as though starved. She watched with barely bridled enthusiasm.
Lowering the empty cup, I wiped the remnant from my mouth and asked, “Why didn’t you have me feed from a mortal?”
Her brown eyes danced. In that moment, the sensuality she wore so effortlessly spoke to every baser part of me, dispelling any doubt of why she caught my eye as a human. A simple response drifted past her luscious, ruby lips. “We are going to teach you how to hunt.” Little did I realize the concept would captivate me as much as it did. She led me from the room, entrusting the short-haired vampire present for my awakening – Timothy – with the task of assisting me.
On our way outside, though, we passed Michael in the foyer. His conversation with a younger-looking vampire named Charles paused just long enough for him to watch me pass. We exchanged a look of mutual disdain, and then severed the gaze. I dismissed it, but only for the time being, in favor of focusing on the task at hand.
Though the lesson itself was as rudimentary as biting a mortal, the hunt enchanted me far more so. My predatory instincts took hold of it naturally; my ears only distantly hearing Timothy speak of the harmony of a pulse and the allure of a human’s scent. The first mortal to cross our path became my next victim and their death was just as insignificant to me as the one from the previous evening. I discovered stalking them was a game of unparalleled thrill.
Successive nights were spent lavished in blood and lessons. Sabrina summoned me to the common area one night the next week and left me in Michael's care, saying, “Teach your brother the things he needs to know.” Her instructions seemed to leave a poor taste in both our mouths. I thanked heaven for my visual infirmity at that moment, as my sunglasses blocked the annoyed look in my eyes while Sabrina walked away.
Michael huffed and motioned for me to follow him toward the opposite end of the room. “Well, now that you’re a vampire, we must keep you from destroying yourself in neophyte stupidity,” he said as we passed several of the others. His manner of speech struck me as odd for the first time, an erudite marriage of British and Irish with a formality also present in Timothy’s more American accent. I glanced around the room and took stock of the well-tailored suits and handmade dresses surrounding me, making my hand-me-down shirts and slacks pale in comparison.
In that instant, I realized I had been born into a haven for bloodthirsty sophisticates.
“Are you listening to a word I'm saying?”
My gaze shifted back to Michael, a sarcastic grin accompanying my response. “Loud and clear,” I said. “Keep the idiot from killing himself.”
“So long as you recognize your station.” Michael lifted an eyebrow, regarding me in silence for a moment before looking away. He did not bother to sit when I did, merely paced around avoiding eye contact as he laid out before me the first of several instructions.
It did not take long for me to discover that most of what mortals know about vampires is absolute nonsense. Certainly, the rumor about feeding on blood revealed itself in all its naked honesty as did another vital tenet which Michael laid out in the very first lesson. “When you see the sky lighten, you must seek refuge at once,” he said while leaning against the wall. “Do not question how many minutes you may have. Get inside before the sun has chance to rise.”
“What will happen if I'm caught outside at daytime?” I asked.
Michael huffed. “Well, we will be certain to sweep up your remnant when the sun sets.”
“What do you mean by ‘remnant’?”
“Dust, dear brother.” Impatience dripped from the term of endearment. “You will be dust and nothing more. There's a good reason why it’s called a curse.”
I perked an eyebrow, but did not ask him to elaborate any further. Although the word curse manifested itself multiple times, the picture he painted hardly seemed like a curse to me. Yes, stakes through the heart would kill us, as would decapitation. Starvation would weaken us and possibly push us to the brink of insanity. The young ones must feed, he said, and I certainly had no qualms with this. I was well on my way to indulging the hunt like an art form.
From there, the dismissal of superstitions surfaced; holy water was nothing more than water, crosses were religious iconography, and garlic merely a mortal delicacy. Michael barely touched on the sensual aspects of being immortal, but he had no need of doing so. I discovered those well enough on my own.
The night whispered tempting prospects in my ear each evening as though it had become a tender lover. Dark, warm, and satisfying, blood ran from mortal veins into my throat for three blissful weeks of ignorance. I became more attuned to my amplified senses each time I stalked and fed. My new eyes, sensitive though they were, possessed a level of awareness I was certain they did not have when I had been mortal. Tools of a hunter, they could track any moving creature within the darkness in detail. My sunglasses did nothing to hinder them. My hearing had become amplified as well, quite literally allowing me to hear a pin drop in a quiet room.
Neither my eyes, nor ears, were what held me hostage the most, though. That honor belonged equally to my senses of smell and taste. Invigorating, they fueled me to become that much cleverer of a killer. The chase was thrilling, yes. My limbs moved with strength and agility mortals could only dream of possessing. None of this, however, could surmount the smell of fear and the taste of that which my senses craved the most.
Sustaining the disconnect between what I once was and that which I had become gave me no problem at first, but as I stalked a mortal one evening – alone now, having proven myself able to hunt without detection – the cadence of a whisper grew in volume and jarred me straight from the feed with my victim only half-depleted. I heard a voice speak in my head and a name resurfaced like an unwelcome visitor from the grave.
Something other than the memory of her dropping dead at my feet rushed through my newborn vampire haze and brought me face to face with a creature that looked strangely familiar. In my mind, I saw a reflection of the person whose identity she called outward, a tall man with sympathetic blue eyes. That man had been me.
‘Peter Dawes, I love you.’
The first time my full mortal name surfaced and it occurred with a woman clinging to the final spark of life, my arms wrapped around her and my fangs still deep inside her neck. I pulled away and took several deep breaths, having no need of the air but plenty of need for steadying myself. The dam of recollection had yet to burst, but it buckled just the same.
Who was Peter Dawes?
This proved to be the most dangerous question I could possibly ask. I finished the woman and discarded her lifeless body, but my steps back to the coven house were uncertain, my mind tracing over the question again and again. Images of me screaming toward the sky, accompanied by the guilt – the horrible, wracking guilt – which held me in its unrelenting throes the night I died resurfaced as though I'd lost all control of my mental faculties. Who was Peter Dawes? Whoever he had been, he did not revel in death nearly as much as I did.
In fact, he seemed to loathe it to the point of inconsolable madness.
My rest that morning was unsettled for the first time in my short, immortal life. I tossed and turned, seeing dualistic pictures play out of my mortal self murdering two people and subsequently losing his mind. This Peter seemed closer to the Peter who first woke, petrified over the change that had taken place within him. He cowered in the corner of my mind, until I woke and the instincts of a vampire silenced his voice by bringing temptation back to my doorstep.
That following evening, my brethren knew something was the matter with me. I became short with each one, especially Michael when his attitude flared once more. “What is it, Peter? Having a difficult evening?” he asked with mocking sarcasm. I ignored it, but the taunts only worsened as my recollections mounted.
Searching for my identity wound the clock backward, and the more I sought myself, the more I realized what I found buried deep inside was no vampire. Peter Dawes not only loved the woman he conscripted to death, he protected life itself with determination. A cast of characters manifested themselves within my psyche, searching for something other than this pale-faced creature when they dove into the recesses of my soul.
They sought someone benevolent, someone with a passion for life and vitality for what he did. Sitting alone in my room with bloody sweat running down my forehead, words flew from my lips as though I was possessed. “Doctor. . . Dr. Peter Dawes. Resident. Emergency room physician. Temple University Hospital.” I shook and shivered, staring at my hands and seeing the pallor of death, imagining the red which stained them after I murdered Lydia. In my mind's eye, the crimson thickened and pooled, beginning to drip from my fingertips as the blood of my other nameless victims joined hers.
Death, death; all around me was death. “What have I become?” I muttered to myself, clutching onto my body as a frightful cold descended into my bones. I scoured memory after memory, trying to determine how I started down this path in the first place, but my initial attempts were all in vain.
It was not until I remembered Sabrina that I found the answer.
The man who would become a killer found immortality in the most unlikely of places.
As my human memories resurfaced, I began to recall a coffee shop. The mental image gradually filled with day-to-day nuances and idle details. Things such as the crowds I used to see - when human beings were more than prey to me – materialized, as well as the thoughts I entertained when I found myself enjoying the house beverage and contemplating the state of my life. This is how she found me, my eyes distant while I mused with sadness over my relationship with Lydia.
It was the perfect timing for a vampiress to lure her latest conquest.
Lydia and I had been together for more than two years and although I could not yet recall everything about our time together, I distinctly knew that things had changed by the time my dark dance with immortality began. Where we once knew such closeness, it all seemed to be slipping away, given over to the distance of busy lives spent immersed in differing pursuits. I brooded over the sands of time, noting their pace outran my quest for happiness.
Sabrina sat across from me and startled me away from my thoughts.
I looked at her, jumping from the sudden appearance of the woman who would become my coven mistress. Her lips pursed together, hands knitted on her lap. She crossed her legs and regarded me with interest.
I raised an inquisitive eyebrow at her. “Can I help you?”
Sabrina lifted a hand and used it to cradle her chin as her elbow settled against the arm of the chair. She was vivacious, yet distinguished at the same time. I noticed the long, pristine nails that adorned her fingers as an afterthought. “I’ve never seen such a young man appear as though he was holding the weight of the world on his shoulders,” she said. “You have me curious.”
I shook my head. “Life,” I said, spitting out the best summary of my thoughts I could fashion. “I’m just thinking about life, that’s all.”
“That’s a pretty weighty subject, Mr. ...”
“Dawes, but please call me Peter.”
“Peter,” she said, allowing my name to roll off of her tongue as if tasting it. She nodded. “My name is Sabrina, Peter. A pleasure to meet you.”
I nodded in return and reached forward. “Likewise.” We exchanged a handshake over the table before sitting back in our seats once more. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around here before,” I said in the effort to make conversation.
“I take it that means you’re a regular,” she said, an amused glint emanating from her eyes as they plunged deeply into mine.
I did not mind the scrutiny, although I am certain I should have. “I’m a doctor at the hospital just up the street. I come here often.”
“Ah, a doctor.” Sabrina looked at my hands, studying them as she spoke. “Steady, strong hands.” Her eyes lifted back toward mine. “And eyes that see a bit of death, I’m sure.”
I winced at the reminder. “More than you can begin to imagine.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Beyond the operating table?”
I met her eyes directly, and then looked away. “Mostly at the hospital, though I’ve seen it elsewhere. My parents were killed in a car accident.” I paused, reliving the traumatic experience without knowing why I was disclosing this to a complete stranger. “I was in the car, too; barely injured but for a broken leg. They might have survived as well, but...”
When I trailed off, I detected the slightest hint of excitement radiating from Sabrina. She spoke before I could acknowledge it. “What happened?”
I looked back at her. “I didn’t know how to help them. It took an hour for the police to arrive and I was too young to be able to do anything for them. That’s why I became a doctor. I wanted to help people.”
“Have you succeeded, Peter?”
“I don’t know how to answer that question.”
“Have you helped others avoid death?”
I frowned, my gaze drifting toward my hands. “That’s the one thing about death, I’ve discovered. Even when you try to avoid it, it comes looking for you anyway.”
“That it does, dear. The question is hardly whether it comes, but what it finds when it reaches you.”
“What do you mean by that?”
She chuckled. “Some cower in fear at its presence and buckle when it looks for them, but others overcome it, Peter. They scoff at it and subjugate it, rather than allowing it to take possession of them. I rather prefer that attitude, don’t you?”
“No one can subjugate death, Sabrina. It happens to all of us.” I paused as a peculiar thought entered my mind. “Now, if only there was some way to avoid it altogether. I think I like that option much better.”
Sabrina grinned and allowed my comment to linger, savoring it before offering her thoughts in return. With that simple confession, I had sealed my fate.
We had several discussions after the fact, whenever we chanced upon one another in the coffee shop, which always came back around to the macabre. What sorts of things I witnessed in the emergency room; the people who arrived beyond help, the people who were brought back from the brink. The constant stream of death and near misses I was forced to gaze upon each and every day. Her words poisoned my thoughts the more I spoke with her, until the evening she came right out and asked if I had ever treated puncture wounds.
I laughed and took a sip of my coffee. “Like knife wounds?”
“No, no, my dear,” she said. She raised a daring eyebrow at me. “I mean something like vampire bites.”
The statement nearly caused me to choke on my beverage. “Vampire bites? You have got to be joking.”
Sabrina laughed, cupping her hand over her mouth in the process. “Oh Peter, let’s say for the sake of argument that I’m not." Composing herself, she cleared her throat and challenged me with her gaze, the corner of her mouth still curled upward in amusement. “Have you ever treated anything like that?”
“No, Sabrina. I’ve never treated vampire bites.”
Her smirk only solidified. “You find the idea incredulous, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.” I scoffed. “Vampires are monsters in horror movies. They don’t exist.”
“You’re certain of this?”
“Oh please.” I nearly punctuated the statement by rolling my eyes, but something caused me to stop. A strange premonition had been asserting its presence in recent days. For as long as I could remember, there had always been a melancholy darkness shrouding my demeanor, but I never sensed it nearly so much as I did when Sabrina was around. It had begun affecting the way I looked at everything.
My temper had started to surface a bit more readily. I was more distracted. My normally-keen focus at work was given over to strange daydreams and notions, many of them chillingly horrific. Just as soon as they would surface I would shake them away, but in that moment, sitting in the coffee shop, I sensed the chill in my soul attempt to wrap its bony fingers around me once more.
“Think of it, dear Peter.” Sabrina’s voice drifted to me as though through a dream. “A being elevated beyond death. Fanciful or not, you have to admit it’s a tempting prospect.”
I perked an eyebrow at the notion. Was it a tempting prospect? My thoughts returned to what I had been mulling on earlier and painted a frown on my face. “Yes, you’re right," I said. “Perhaps being a vampire wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.”
Sabrina studied me intently. “What troubles you, Peter? Once again, I see the weight of the world on those shoulders of yours.”
“Immortality,” I said, my gaze distant as I stared across the room. Thoughts of Lydia wove with whatever strange revelation had me in its throes. All at once, it caved in on me; her distance and our periods of separation. The surety I thought I had, being replaced by two busy schedules and two ships passing in the night. Lydia’s own strange behavior with me, her absence, and the suspicious nature of it all. I shook my head. “Just when you feel as though you have something reliable – something permanent – it starts slipping away from you. I wish I could be immortal and not have to worry about...” I trailed off, struggling for the right word to encompass everything.
“Immortality can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing.”
I scoffed, my eyes drawn toward her again. “I don’t see how that could be a curse, Sabrina. Everybody wants to live forever.”
“Not many people are able to handle the responsibility of being something more than human, though.” She leaned forward in her chair, her eyes grabbing hold of mine in an unrelenting grip. “Mortals long for death without realizing it. Could you handle eternity, dear Peter? Would you accept it if it was handed to you?”
My voice sounded queerly subdued as I spoke again. “I only want the things in my life to stop changing with the wind.”
Sabrina’s voice lowered as well. “Things like your girl?”
“Yes. Lydia.” I closed my eyes. “We used to be inseparable, but she has not felt close to me lately. With each passing week, it seems as though we’re drifting apart and...” I fell silent, unwilling to give voice to my fears.
I opened my eyes in time to see Sabrina perk an eyebrow at me. “And what, Peter? Wanting different things, as often happens between two people? She in search of her own pursuits and you in search of permanence?”
I was unable to respond, but Sabrina continued as she turned her head askew to size me up. I felt her drift closer to me without moving at all. A shiver ran down my spine. “What do you desire, dear confused one? Permanence? Or the fickle love of someone who could cast you away at a moment’s notice? Which would you seek more if the option to be immortal were valid?”
“I don’t know,” I murmured, slack-jawed, as if in a trance.
“What if I could grant it to you? Here and now, on a silver platter. What would you ask for?”
“Immortality. I want to be sure about something for once.”
Sabrina’s voice descended into whisper. “Then ask me for it.”
My eyes drifted shut. “Give me immortality, Sabrina.”
“Open your eyes and claim it, dear child. Find your surety.”
My lids shot open. I stood and excused myself, mind swimming, compelled to do something other than sit there. I had attempted to call Lydia on the phone earlier, but somehow the discussion of what was lasting and what was transient gave me the inclination to head for her apartment and clear the air once and for all.
I would never look upon the world with mortal eyes again after that night. For, as Sabrina watched me walk away, she had her own set of plans and was poised and ready to exact them. She found a searching, lost young man and rescued a murderer.
Now, Sabrina would train a killer out of me.