Gwen walked out of her gymnastics class late, having stayed a bit behind to help clean things up. Looking at her phone, she was amazed to see that she’d missed two calls; one from her mother, who was probably wondering where she was. The other… it was from an unregistered name, with no call back number, just a series of zeroes filling out the screen where the phone numbers usually sat.
And she had two voicemails.
Shaking her head, Gwen ruffled her hair a little, the cold water from her post-workout shower still lingering in her ponytail. She quickly typed in her passcode to her phone and dialed up her mother as she began walking home. The city was bright, with the sky the color of blood as the sun slowly died in the western sky, staining the regal blue a mixture of oranges and purples. Walking down the road, Gwen waited for her Mom to pick up the phone, looking down at the cement of the sidewalk as she went.
“Hello?” A drowsy voice answered finally. Great, Gwen thought, Mom’s been drinking again…
“Hi Mom, it’s just me. You called me earlier, what is it you wanted to know?” Gwen asked, stopping at an intersection next to a man in a trench coat.
She stared at him openly, amazed that anyone would wear such a thing during all of this humidity! His face was covered by a wide-brimmed hat and high collar, and he gave off a slightly creepy vibe, so Gwen inched away from him.
“Why did I call you? Oh yes, that’s right! Could you pick up some things at the grocers for me on your way home dear, I just need some more wine.”
“Mom, I’m not picking you up any wine,” Gwen said, still staring at the man, pressing the button to allow her safe passage across the street faster. “You sound like you’ve had enough.”
“Don’t take that tone of voice with me, young lady, I’ve had a rough week!” Mom said her typical defense. “You pick me up a bottle of red wine and you’ll be able to have dinner tonight!”
And with that, her mother hung up on her and the symbol of a man walking across the street came up, allowing Gwen to stride across the walkway and onto the main thoroughfare, a street lined with small stores owned by locals. Sure there was a Wal-Mart down the road, but people preferred the local charm of going to the meat market, the grocers, the hardware store, etc. Hell, Gwen and her friends would usually hang out in Coffee of Paradise, a small internet café that most of the college students would go to when classes were over for the day. Next to it was the Warhound, a tavern where the professors usually hung out for a few hours after five, so they were available for questions should you need them and you were at the café.
It was really convenient.
Walking past the Friendly Florals Flower shop where Mr. King was sweeping out dirt and grime onto the street, Gwen sighed and began looking across the street, back and forth, to see if she could make it to Palmers Meat Market. They were a butcher's shop, but also carried red wine. If she didn’t want a heated argument with her mother when she got home, she better just gets the wine.
Crossing the street lined with parked cars, she hopped up on the curb and smiled at old Mr. Palmer through the display glass of his shop, pushing the door open with a small jingle of a bell.
“Well Gwen, how are you doing?” Mr. Palmer asked, setting a ham down under the glass of the counter, where a wide variety of meats were displayed.
“I’m good Mr. Palmer, just here to pick up some wine,” Gwen said, walking over to the small liquor section of the store. Cheap beers and flavored coolers sat in a refrigerated case while the wine bottles sat in a rack next to it. Looking over the selection, Gwen didn’t even perk her ears when she heard the door jingle again.
“Well hello sir, how may I help… you?” Mr. Palmer said, slowly sounding confused as the man’s footsteps led him past the counter and close up behind Gwen.
Turning, she stared into the bottomless pink eyes of a young white man, his skin like a fresh dusting of snow. He wore a heavy trench coat and had a hat on, sunglasses pulled off into his gloved hand. He was staring at Gwen with a small smirk, his golden eyebrow and nose studs gleaming in the dying light.
“Can I help you?” Gwen asked somewhat forcefully, wiping the smirk from his face.
“Oh,” he said, looking around at the selection of drinks. He selected a six-pack of beer and held it up as if to show her. “No, I just needed… this.”
His voice was low, with a mixture of accents she’d never heard before. He must be here for the State College. Gwen told herself, walking around him awkwardly as he stared at the drinks in his hand. “See you around I guess,” she said as a way of parting.
“I guess,” the guy replied wistfully.
Mr. Palmer was glaring daggers at the boy but rang up the bottle of wine for Gwen easy enough. He leaned over the counter and motioned for Gwen to do the same. “You watch yourself around that young man, he’s not from around here.”
Gwen smiled. Mr. Palmer, like many of the residents of Alice Grove, didn’t like all of the foreign people invading their little town. Sure, they liked their money, but they didn’t want to become something bigger, like San Antonio or Austin. Gwen reached into her gym bag and pulled out her wallet, paying for the wine with cash, waving away the fifty cents worth of change, before slipping the bottle into the bag with her wallet. Mr. Palmer looked over at the man who was still reading the ingredients on the beer, scowling as the boy’s mouth moved as he read the words.
“Are you going to buy something or not?” Mr. Palmer finally asked as Gwen walked to the door, pulling it open.
The man looked up at the jingle of the bell and smiled before looking over at Mr. Palmer. “No, I don’t think I will. You’re a very rude merchant, you know that?”
“Get out of my shop!” Mr. Palmer shouted, scaring Gwen enough to force her to leave before she could see how the rest of the drama would unfold. Turning to walk down the alleyway next to the meat market to the street on the other side where she could see if any of her friends were at the café, Gwen shook her head at the odd man’s overall look. He looked ridiculous!
“Help…” A small voice piped up from behind a dumpster, causing Gwen to jump in fright. Crouched into a corner there in a matching coat and hat was a boy, maybe eight years old. He was clutching his side as if he’d been kicked or stabbed, his undershirt being a thick red sweater. Gwen took a step forward and looked at the boy.
“Are you okay?” She asked, looking into his pink eyes. “Are you looking for your brother? I met him in the butcher shop, do you want me to get him?”
The little boy shook his head and reached both his hands up as if he wanted to be lifted. Gwen chuckled and stooped to pick the boy up, wrapping her arms around his legs and bottom as she held him against her hip. “That better?” She asked, craning her head to look at the little boy’s pale eyes.
Pale eyes which flooded an angry red as he lunged forward, one hand latching into her hair as if his fingers were talons, open mouth full of saw-like teeth going for her throat. Her scream died the second it was issued, her gym bag falling and hitting the pavement as the little boy climbed up her body, his teeth digging into her neck to get a firm hold as he drank greedily from the wound he’d made over her artery. She pawed at him to get him off, but he yanked her head back before throwing his weight forward, sending her falling to her back. She landed hard, atop her gym bag, and was quickly dragged behind the dumpster. She fought against him, bringing her feet up to his chest to push him away, but that just made him flense her neck with his teeth, even more, blood seeping from around the seal he’d formed over his bite mark.
And then the man was over her, kicking the boy off of her with a savage grunt. The boy rolled down the alley before springing up onto all fours like a cat.
“Go away Hassid,” the boy hissed, fingernails clacking on the pavement of the alley. “She’s half-drained as it is, she’s mine!”
“She is nobodies!” Hassid said, whipping out a knife from a side pocket. “I owe her family a debt, and I intend to see it through.”
“You’ve made a mistake here Hassid,” the boy growled. “When Kaiser hears of this he’ll have your head.”
“Don’t bring Kaiser into this Cloutus, I’ll pay you back. I’ll hunt with you and lure two pretty young girls over to you so you can drink your fill. Just not this one.”
“And why not?” Cloutus asked, his bloody tongue liking his lips. “She tasted normal enough. Nothing special about her.”
“You’re just hungry, but let me have her and I promise we’ll hunt tonight,” Hassid said, holding the knife out. “Just meet me at the café around nine o’clock, alright?”
“Nine… and you’ll help me have any I want?” Cloutus asked, the red receding back from his pale eyes as he seemed to begin to calm down. His nails slid back into his skin and he stood up, adjusting his clothes.
“Any two, so long as they don’t share blood with her,” Hassid said, pointing down at Gwen’s bleeding form.
“Alright… well, then I’ll see you at nine.” Cloutus said, turning and walking down the alley three steps before vanishing.
Hassid turned, no longer concerned about his small friend; he needed to get blood into Gwen fast. Cradling her body up against his, he placed his lips over the ragged wound and began retching dark, clotted blood into the wound. The clotted blood quickly spread and scabbed over the neck bite before turning lighter and lighter, finally appearing as her skin did. Moving his lips from her neck, Hassid pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped down her bloody neck and top, before she started rousing from the gentle movements. Hassid put her down and sat next to her, both hidden by meat market’s dumpster from the outside world.
“What… what happened?” She asked, her voice raspy and dry.
“You were attacked by a vampire,” Hassid said, drawing attention to him. She stared at him in shock until she remembered what the little boy had done, was doing before she lost consciousness. “I healed you, though you are still weak from blood loss. Here, take these.”
He reached into his pocket and tossed a small bottle over to her, flipping the knife back into his other pocket. She caught the bottle while noting the knife, her eyes drifting to the label. “Iron pills?”
“You just lost a lot of blood… B positive, correct?” Hassid asked.
“Yeah, how’d you…know that?” She was a little dizzy. He urged her to take two pills, which she did, swallowing them dry.
“I tasted it when I sealed your wound, plus you have a bruise somewhere on you; I can smell the blood from there,” Hassid replied conversationally.
“That’s creepy… listen, can you, like, go away? You’re kind of a freak, and I’m covered in bloodstains. I don’t think you caused them, but if we walk out of the alley like this, then people will say things.”
“People are always saying things,” Hassid smiled. “Your father said that a few times around me.”
“Dad? You knew him?” Gwen asked, now wishing she hadn’t just told him to leave.
“Oh yes, he was a brave man,” Hassid said. “He hunted my kind for nearly six years before one of us got to him.”
“But he died in an auto accident,” Gwen said, her memory of the closed casket funeral bringing about dark emotions. “A drunk driver hit him.”
“No, he picked a fight with a vampire who had friends. The reason it was said to be a car accident was because of how, um, little there was left of him.” Hassid said.
Gwen gasped. Hassid took her by the hand, his sun-warmed gloves warming her icy digits. “He told me when we would meet up for information, about you. Yes, he mentioned he had a little girl. I came here today to find you, as it’s been ten years since his death sometime next month, yes?”
“The sixteenth,” Gwen said.
“Right, the sixteenth. And I wanted to warn you that you’ll be up for grabs to any vampire who wanted revenge against your father the day that occurs.” Hassid said, clasping his hand over hers.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that this town is going to have vampires from all walks of life descend on it in hopes of being the one not only to kill you but to turn you,” Hassid said, a half-smile forming on his face. “Think of it as a compliment, kind of.”
“How is that a compliment?” Gwen asked her dizziness going away as she sat up.
“It’s, well… look, your father killed some really nasty vampires in his time, vampires that had lived centuries. Their underlings are now free and know your name, and knowing what they knew of your father, will most likely want to take revenge by turning you into a vampire, as a final spit in the eye to your father.”
“Because he killed their masters?” Gwen asked.
“Exactly. I was one of the few vampires he didn’t want to kill, as I mainly drink from those willing to share.”
“Share?” Gwen looked disgusted by this.
“There’ve always been vampire groupies, True Blood and Twilight only made it mainstream,” Hassid said. Standing up, he helped her to her feet before fetching her bag. “Now I have a proposal that could solve all your problems, well soon-to-be-problems.”
“What, you going to spend a month teaching me how to fight?” Gwen asked with a chuckle.
“No, I was going to offer my services as the one to turn you,” Hassid said before bowing slightly at the waist. “Hassid Al-Abdur, at your service.”
“Hassid… wait, you mean you’re not an albino?” She asked, ignoring his offer to kill her.
“No,” he chuckled. “Most of us just look like this after we are turned as we keep the blood stored around our hearts. If we want strength or speed, or to change the color of our skin or eyes we pump blood and voila! Instant change! Makes us very versatile.”
“Prove it,” Gwen said, somewhat doubting the whole vampire story he was going with.
“God, really? I just pulled a parasitic ten-year-old off of you and you need further proof? Fine!” He said as his skin flushed, slowly darkening until it was a rich mocha color, his eyes a soulful brown. His clothes even looked a little tight on him, as if he’d bulked up. “Happy? Can I change back?”
“Y-yes…” Gwen said, not knowing what to say.
“Thank you,” Hassid said, all pigment vanishing from his skin in the blink of an eye, his eyes fading to the pale pink they’d been before. He even lost muscle mass!
“How did you do that?” She demanded, looking at Hassid as if he were an alien. Her head was spinning again, but she didn’t care, she just put her hand against the brick wall.
“I told you, vampire. We can do that to blend in with any society we choose. I could look black, white, Native American, Hispanic… it’s all in the blink of an eye for me.” Hassid said, walking up to help her steady herself, taking the gym bag off her shoulder. “Now my offer stands; let me turn you now so that you don’t get your family, and a lot of this town, killed in the process a month from now.”
“Wait, they’d kill my neighbors?” Gwen asked, surprised.
“To get to you, yes. They’d drain them bone dry if they couldn’t find you and knew you were here.” Hassid said before raising an index finger. “But! If you vanish into the night and your mother and friends put out searches for you, the vampire community will assume you went underground and leave well enough alone. We’re a patient lot, so we’d just wait for you to make a mistake.”
“What’ll they do once I’ve turned? Will they want to kill me then? Can that even happen?” Gwen asked.
“I don’t know. Vampires loathe killing each other as we consider our undeath something sacred,” Hassid said, letting go of her hand. “I’m offering this to you only because of the way your father protected me from other vampire hunters, for his memory. I know that should you be turned by one that was hurt by him; your existence would not be pleasant.”
“So I really have no choice…” Gwen said, looking down at her feet.
“Not if you want Alice Grove to remain safe, no.” Hassid agreed, stepping close to her, his mouth opening wide.
“Will it, will it hurt? Dying that is,” Gwen asked.
“Only for a moment,” Hassid whispered before he slowly sank his teeth into the side of her neck, his tongue worming its way into the wound as blood splashed the back of his throat. As he drank, he pumped clotted, thick blood into her, blood which quickly began to seep into her muscles and organs.
Gwen died without making a sound, save for one last groan as her breath left her.
Gwen woke up, her eyes snapping open towards the ceiling as she realized she was lying down. She was still in her workout clothes, but on a metal slab. Bones popping and muscles screeching as she stretched them, she pushed herself up into a sitting position to look around the room.
It looked like she was in an abandoned hospital, the windowless room devoid of light; yet her eyes could make out everything as if she were standing beneath the midday sun. Looking down, she saw her gym bag had been unceremoniously thrown to the ground next to the metal table she was on. Looking at her skin, she could see the veins beneath her narrow limbs, empty and lifeless.
She felt her neck, her shoulder; no pain. In fact, she didn’t feel any pain anymore! Old injuries she’d forgotten she’d had were no longer a concern it would seem, as her entire body was free of pain. Hopping down from the table, she squatted down and unzipped her gym bag, moving her dirty clothes about in search of her phone.
It was nearly dead, and she had sixteen missed calls, with seventeen messages. Bringing the phone to her ear, she pressed the voicemail option and waited patiently as the first voicemail came up. It was her mother, asking for wine. Gwen’s forlorn smile made her ponder whether she would ever be able to see her mother again, now that she was a member of the living dead. The second message was from an unknown source and started off fuzzy.
“Gwen? Gwen, I know you won’t believe me, but this is your father,” the gruff voice said. Gwen’s heart clenched as the voice pierced her memories, bringing up so many thoughts of the man’s voice from when he was alive. He continued speaking in a hushed tone as if he were afraid someone would hear him.
“Gwen, you’re going to be approached by a man who is not what he seems,” the message continued. “Do not accept anything he offers, do you hear me? I don’t care if he seems like a hero or some kind gentleman; he’s a vampire sweetie. I know it’s hard to believe, but I’ve been away now for ten years hunting them. They just recently found out about you, and I’m afraid they’ll come after you.”
“Oh my god,” Gwen said, bringing her hand up to her mouth.
“Do not trust anyone you don’t know, even if they appear normal. They can move around during dusk and dawn with ease and aren’t afraid of much, but they do drink blood, and if given the chance will turn you to use you against me. I have to go now, we’re getting ready for a mission, but I’ve warned your mother as well. Goodbye honey, know how sorry I am that I faked my death and that I love you.”
The voicemail ended with a monotone voice asking if she would like to save the message. Gwen dropped the phone into her bag and stood up, turning to head to the door.
But she bumped into Hassid’s chest. Looking up into his shark-like smile, she quivered in fear and loathing. “You lied to me!”
“Yes, I did. And now I have the great vampire hunters daughter as my thrall,” Hassid said, his tone venomous. “All it cost me was a little time researching where he lived when he was just an average human and coming here to find you. Not that hard at all really, right Cloutus?”
The small boy from earlier shimmered into existence, his skin changing from the colors of the wall to the pale tone all vampires had. “No Master, it was rather simple. Thank you for letting me feed off of her.”
“You’re welcome my dear boy,” Hassid said, walking over and placing a hand on Cloutus’s shoulder. Both were still dressed in their trench coats and sweaters and seemed to be reveling in Gwen’s sorrow.
“But… but why?” Gwen asked, looking at Hassid with a mixture of betrayal and hatred.
“Because your father killed my Master, freeing me after nearly eighty years of service. But like I said, we all hold our undeath sacred; he had to be punished,” Hassid said, pulling out the knife from his pocket. “This knife was what your father used to carve out my Master’s heart. It’s blessed silver, so be careful not to handle without a glove. You’ll be using it to take out your father for me.”
“What? No, I won’t!” Gwen exclaimed.
“Oh, you will. No thrall can resist their Master’s command, but don’t worry; I’ll only be having you kill him in a year or so. I’m going to first have you trained up in a few skills that I think you’ll need.”
“Like how to fight my father?” Gwen spat.
“No, I already have him caged like the beast he is. He raided a nest of mine before being caught. He somehow got a hold of a cell phone and made some calls, as you no doubt know now,” Hassid said, motioning towards the gym bag. “No, I’m going to train you in how to torture someone without killing them. And then we’re going to see how long we, and by that I mean you, can string your old man out.”
“No,” Gwen said, dreading the thought of hurting the person she missed most in life.
“Yes Gwen,” Hassid said, his smile growing wider. “Now come with me, your mother is waiting for you to begin practice.”