Light glares in through the front windows of the café. Adam’s head throbs at the incoming light. The barista eyes his worn navy Dickies and wrinkled shirt warily as he clods through, ordering a plain coffee and then takes a seat in the booth facing the wall in the furthest corner of the room, out of the sun’s reach.
The café is devoid of color. Black and white coats everything—the checkered tiles on the floor, the cool, polished tops of the table, the faux leather booths and chairs. Even the barista wears all black, setting off against her pale skin and white-blond hair.
Adam huddles over his coffee, taking a sip. It hits his stomach and warms his numb fingers and toes, still not used to the cold this time of year. He turns and surveys the slim, early evening customer populace. There are a few guys and girls, his age, lingering at the front door, hugging and talking. Old high school chums from the looks of it. A couple sits a few booths over, huddled together, whispering with their heads close together.
“Whatever. Screw them,” Adam says, finishing off the coffee. For a moment, he considers the consequences of skipping rent this month and heading to the bar across the street. His paycheck crinkles conspicuously in his coat pocket, rubbing up against the drawing from earlier in the afternoon. Without opening the envelope, he knows exactly what the check will cover—rent, an economy sized box of Ramen noodles, and a few more coffees. His stomach grumbles in protest.
The temperature to Adam’s right suddenly drops and he shivers. “You look like you could use something stronger than this,” a smooth alto says. He turns to see Diana, clad in an elegant black turtleneck and slacks. She slides a white cup on the table and takes the seat opposite him, her own cup resting between ivory hands.
He looks at the cup for a moment, and then at her. “Thanks. Again,” he says, downing the drink quickly. The cold dissipates as suddenly as it came. “So… You don’t by chance work here?” he asks, indicating her attire.
Her brows rise and she laughs suddenly. “No,” she says between subduing chuckles, reigned in by protests of the dragon to not attract attention. “Not a chance.”
“Oh.” He shrugs. “You just look like you could belong here. That’s all.”
Diana gazes ahead at the entrance of the café. “Looking and belonging are two very different things, you know.”
“Yeah, I do.”
Diana turns, reaching behind her seat. “I have been known to frequent this place and have a few things stashed here.” She faces Adam again, handing him a small silver flask. “The cure for all things when just coffee isn’t enough.” She pushes her untouched coffee towards him.
Adam stares at the flask. “Are you trying to get me drunk?”
A devilish gleam lights her eyes. “Yes. I am going to get you drunk and then I am going to have my way with you.” The demon in her growls at the furthest corners of her mind, anticipation and confusion rolling through Diana in waves. If Adam realized just what the dragon wanted her to do, he would have run screaming the moment she sat down.
“Works for me,” he says, unscrewing the flask. He tilts it back toward her. “You’re sure you don’t want any?”
She shakes her head. “It doesn’t really have an effect on me anyway.”
Adam takes a swig, and starts coughing immediately. He stares incredulously at the flask. “What the hell is in here?”
“The good stuff,” she says. “What? Is it a little too much for you?” she chides, a small grin tugging at the right corner of her mouth.
The couple a few booths up laughs loudly, the woman’s screech grating on Adam’s ears. “Not at all.” He takes a deep breath and then another swig, grimacing as the fluid burns his insides going down. His eyes are glassy when he puts the flask down.
Diana looks to the window. The sun is receding in the sky, turning the light a deep crimson as the day wanes. The group of people laughs, downing their coffees and hot chocolates, seeking warmth from more sources than one. They form off in pairs, just like the other couple. Former friends looking for more? Touching—one girl’s hand on a guy’s shoulder, the guy’s hand in turn touching the girl’s knee.
It was so easy for them, Diana muses. It was so easy to find someone, yet they never acknowledge that fact. She turns to her counterpart. Dazed as Adam is, Diana feels a peace she hasn’t known since… The mark at her neck throbs in tune to a sudden headache. Diana lets out a breath and leans forward, placing her elbows on the marble table.
Don’t think about it, the beast warns her, but his presence is less overbearing than normal. Don’t even consider turning him. But the thought is overbearing, choking her with a hope she hasn’t felt in years.
“Adam, what are you doing here?” His brows clench together in confusion. “You seem like a smart man, and you’re attractive.” She looks him dead in the eyes. “What happened to you?”
Adam stares at the table, and then rests his head in his hands. “I’m not really sure. Everything just…fell apart. And now here I am.”
Diana’s hand reaches up to the crook of her neck, up to the blemishes that shattered her world, breaking the perfect balance of her life. “You know,” she says, her eyes gradually fogging over, glassy with memory. “There was a time that I was promised to someone. We were going to start a family, kids and a white-picket fence—the whole thing.”
Adam looks up at her. “What happened?”
A bitter smile plasters on her lips. “Everything fell apart.”
He reaches across the table, grabbing her hand. She feels his pulse, the warmth of his life and blood on her icy hand. Her mind reels. Part of her wants to embrace him, part wants drain him--to feel that very life flowing in her again. She feels the beast’s screams burning in her, but he is muted by the contact.
Goosebumps rise on Adam’s arm despite the alcohol flowing through his system and the jacket he still wears. “You’re cold,” he says, staring at her limp hand. “Cold as death.”
She takes a deep breath, and pulls her hand out from under his, and the beast’s protests return full force. “You’re half right.”
“Undead. Nosferatu. Vampyre. Vampire. Whatever you kids call it these days, that is what I am,” she says with a shrug. Adam’s hazy green eyes bore into her. He leans forward, studying her, and takes another swig from the flask.
I told you this would be a mistake. Diana brushes the beast aside, studying Adam’s reaction. He looks everywhere, the table, the couple, the group at the front of the building, anywhere but directly at Diana. Then he reaches into his pocket, pulling out his sketch from earlier in the afternoon. His cheeks flush, turning the same color as his hair.
“I’ve had dreams about you,” he says, sweat starting to glisten at his forehead. “For a while now.” He takes a shaky breath and closes his eyes. “It’s always the same thing. I walk down the alley and see you there, with me dead in your lap. And you ask me to kill you.” He opens his eyes and turns to her, coherency and confusion burning in him. “Why would you want me to kill you?” he asks, a little too loudly. The other patrons turn and stare for an awkward moment. Diana reaches across the table, placing her icy hand on his cheek. The color seeps from his face and he relaxes. She waits for the sound to pick back up again and speaks softly.
“I have lived this existence for a very long time in solitude. Sometimes I think that death would be blissful.”
He shakes his head, slowly at first, but building up speed as his thoughts congest and bubble over. “No way. It’s not possible. Vampires aren’t real.” He leans back into the seat running his hands through his shaggy hair and laughs. “You’re shitting me, aren’t you?” he asks, looking back at her. “Come on, tell me where the cameras are. Do I get some kind of prize?” He looks at the empty flask. “I bet that wasn’t even alcohol. You just got me to think I’ve been drinking.” He stands suddenly, knocking into the table and swaying. He falls heavily back into the seat and clutches his head.
Diana shakes her head. “Even compared to humans, your alcohol tolerance is pathetic. I would hate to see you in the morning.”
“No problem,” he mutters. “I’m not exactly into the whole necrophilia thing.”
“For someone who’s opposed to the existence of vampires, you’re handling this with a good deal of humor,” she says, leaning back and folding her arms across her chest.
Adam shrugs and takes to absently circling the rim of his cup with his thumb. The door chimes as the group heads out the door, laughing and, poorly, singing Christmas carols. The couple near them follows suit, heading out into the darkening evening. At the counter, the barista flicks on the television. She pauses to glance in their direction and then takes up a bored vigil, tapping her manicured fingers on the counter as the seconds wear on and night passes by.
After a while, Adam stands and moves to share Diana’s seat. “What now?” he asks.
She glances at him. “Don’t tell me a few hours have convinced you that my kind is real.”
“Maybe,” he says. “But I could use some convincing.”
“Alcohol makes you people do stupid things,” she says, shaking her head. Diana grins as an idea comes to mind. She lays her head on his shoulder, cold breath sending chills down the exposed part of his neck. “What did you have in mind? Me sucking you dry?” He shudders involuntarily, but holds his ground.
Adam barely notices the black blur cross him. It’s only when he feels Diana’s icy hand on his left shoulder that he realizes she’s not sitting beside him anymore. “Come on,” she says, standing in the aisle. She grabs the flask, shoving back behind the seat, and heads out the door, her arm linked through his. “You’re going to have one hell of a hangover in the morning.” Diana mutters.
Second-hand smoke hangs in a lazy haze. It burns Adam’s lungs as he walks into the warm club, just a few inconspicuous blocks from the hell-hole basement he worked at. Club might be too strong of a word. There was a bar running along the west wall, a small stage on the north wall with a no-name band playing a beat that set Adam’s thumb twitching to the beat, and a square wooden floor centered between the two. A TV plays on the east wall, as a bored bartender flips through the channels with glassy eyes.
Adam walks to the bar, orders a beer and sits on a worn stool in the shadows of the corner furthest from the stage and the entrance. It’s only six in the evening, Adam is one of five people in the building, but he intends to stay most of the night. This place isn’t one of New York’s many hot spots; precisely the reason Adam frequents it. The music isn’t too bad either. He downs his first beer and asks for another.
“This one’s on the lady in the booth,” the bartender says and returns to her diligent vigil in front of the TV. Adam turns, wondering how he could miss anyone in the near-empty building. There’s a series of booths on the opposite wall. In the center one, a woman with ebony hair and ivory skin raises her glass to him. He stands abruptly, conscious of the check and drawing in his jacket pocket. He takes another swig and walks through the haze to the worn-leather booth.
“Hello and thanks again,” he says to the woman frequenting his mind for the past week. “You always seem to find me at the right moment. How’d you know I’m here on Fridays?”
“I didn’t,” she says, taking a sip of her martini. “You just told me.”
He wrinkles his brow and looks closely at her. “You’re not stalking me then, are you?”
“That would depend. Do you want me to be stalking you?”
He shrugs his shoulders noncommittally. “It’d make life more interesting, particularly if it’s you,” he says, ducking his head on the last part. “Mind if I join you?”
She waves her hand toward the open space. “Be my guest.” He sinks into the worn leather, across the table from her. They watch each other for several moments, a silent staring match as they went through another three drinks each. “So what do you do, Adam?”
“I’m an artist,” he says, hand halfway in his coat pocket, and stops. The young man sits back, exhaling a long sigh. “You look just like this woman I’ve been dreaming about,” he says.
“A dream woman?” The corners of her mouth turn up slightly. He takes a breath and she’s next to him, reaching in his pocket. She pulls out the drawing and opens it up, fingers trailing on the page. “Is this her?”
Adam swallows and gives an involuntary shudder. There’s a freezing chill where’s she’s pressed against him. His gut coils, but his heart rate jumps. “Well, there’s not much to say, really. I see her every night now. But there’s something odd. She has wings and a tail, like a dragon…”
Diana jerks her head to the right and narrows her eyes. For the briefest moment, Adam sees crimson swimming at the edges of her visible eye. He dips his head and takes another swig of his drink. That’s when he notices her wrist, barely exposed.
“Interesting tattoo you have there,” he says, and points at her wrist. A silver, scaled tail wraps around her left forearm.
She stares at him blankly for a moment. “What tattoo?”
“Isn’t there a tail wrapped around your wrist?” He reaches for the exposed skin, turning her wrist so he could see. “Oh. Must have just been imagining it.”
“It’s all right,” she says, placing her arm on the table. “So what does this woman do when you see her?”
“She always whispers to me, but I can never hear what she says, until last night.” He pauses, turning to Diana. “She asked for my blood.”
“So she’s a vampire?”
Adam shrugs. “I guess.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, doesn’t it seem odd that a vampire would ask for blood? Besides, I’ve never heard of a vampire with the wings and tail of a dragon.”
“I suppose it doesn’t go with the stereotypical image. But have you considered what a true vampire might look like?”
“You’re not saying they real, are you?”
“And if I am?”
“I’d say you’re shitting me.”
“Fair enough,” she says, downing the last of her martini. A notion crosses her mind. “What would it take for you to believe vampires are real?” The moment she says it, the beast in her skin protests, making her flinch, but Adam doesn’t seem to notice.
"I'm going to need to see some proof," he said.
"What do you want? Me to suck you dry?"
Adam clutches his throat and presses into the seat. "Uh, could we avoid that?"
"No problem. I don't drink human blood anyway." She holds up her hand, sensing the question. "And let's try to not make this 'Interview with a Vampire.' I'm not an Anne Rice fan, and don't care to divulge the time or energy. But--" she says, a gleam lighting her eyes. "I do have something in mind." She stands, swiftly moving to Adam's side before he realizes she's missing. "Let's go. Time's wasting.”
The mail came in at one and went to the above floors at three. Adam’s co-worker’s, with their matching light blue button-ups and navy Dickey’s—a dead give away of their mailroom status--clicked their pens and drank from innocent looking flasks, eyeing the hands on the clock as time inched toward five and their weekend away from this hell.
Adam stares at the page for a moment. “Fuck this,” he mutters and crumbles the page. With a flick of his wrist, he tosses it at the wastebasket, but the wad bounces off, landing in a small mountain of previous failed attempts.
He leans back in his chair, throwing his hands behind his head. He grimaces when he catches a whiff of himself. There was no excuse this time. He had to scrounge up the change to do laundry this weekend. The desk glares at him, empty and naked as he rubs a hand across yesterday’s five o’clock shadow. He tries staring it down for a moment, but sighs, and reaches into the right-hand drawer for another fresh sheet, and lightly brushes his pencil across the page.
Art school had been a haven for Adam. It was a sanctuary where anything and everything was his muse—the old man feeding bird in the park, girls in their mini-skirts eyeing him as they walked by, even the fountain at the center of the school where he always ate lunch and marveled at the wonder of being surrounded by fellow artists. There were days Adam would leave his house, an hour drive from Dallas, at six in the morning and stay until the budding light of the next morning and he’d stay again. His inspiration never ran dry, and then his big break came.
A new comic book company stationed in New York was out looking for in-house artists and stumbled across one of Adam’s contest pieces and offered a salary that would take off a significant chunk of his student loans if the company hit it big. With a shiny new degree in hand, it was the perfect ticket out of the shit-hole small town he’d grown up in. It was the chance to get away from his mother, the obsessive compulsive, workaholic bank-teller, and his father, the dead-beat Irish truck driver who tended to fly into fits of rage on whims. Why they haven’t divorced yet is beyond Adam’s comprehension.
The comic company was closed when Adam got to New York, before the first issue ever went to print. Adam jumped at the first job offering enough to pay the rent for his closet size apartment—the mail-room of a fashion magazine. His inspiration ran dry under those fluorescent bulbs. Each time another one died, he felt his dream slipping further away. Until she appeared.
He’d had the same dream for three months. At first, the dreams were blurred and fuzzy, like an old movie, but they were always the same. Seeing Diana that night should have brought meaning to the dream, but he still feels like he’s chasing a ghost.
Blood. There’s so much blood. The walls of Adam’s mind ooze with the substance. It taints the air, coppery and sweet, making his stomach swim as the cold air gusts over him.
He walks by an alley, and stops when he sees a woman hunched over a body, her ebony hair caked in sticky red gunk. A scythe with a formidable silver blade lays forgotten to the side. He approaches the woman and notices she’s shuddering in the freezing air. He steps closer and closer, drawn to this woman. She hears him and stops to look up.
Her eyes are silver and swimming with streaks of crimson as blood pours from her eyes and rouge lips. “Please,” she whispers, barely audible in the howling wind. “Help me. Stop me.” She reaches a pale hand out for him. “Kill me.”
Adam looks down at the head lying forgotten in her lap. His stomach lurches and he heaves as he looks into his own face, whiter than her alabaster skin, cheeks sunken in as if they weighed too much for his face, mouth open in a wordless scream…
A slap on Adam’s back nearly sends his head into the desk. “Easy there, kid. Can’t have you in a coma now that the weekend’s started.” Ned is a husky guy with a thick head full of peppered hair and arms like bricks despite the fact that he’s old enough to get social security benefits. He spots the drawing in front of Adam and snatches it up, letting out a low whistle. “Well what have we got here? Adam’s new girl? Foxy little thing.”
“Nah,” Adam says, rubbing his weary eyes. “She’s not my girl.”
“But she is real? You didn’t make this one up?” Adam nods. Ned hands Adam a white envelope with the drawing. “Take this week’s check and buy her a nice dinner. You haven’t been on a date since you started working here.”
Adam stares at the envelope. “I’ll think about it.”
“Don’t think about it. Do it. I’m off, kid. Go get some!”
The older man laughs and heads up the stairs, leaving Adam the sole person in the basement. He reaches for the drawing, meaning to crumble it, but stops. “What are you, Diana?” He folds the drawing and places it, with the check in the inside pocket of his beaten bomber jacket, clocks out, and heads up the stairs and out of the building.
Blood. There’s so much blood. The walls of Adam’s mind are oozing with the substance. It taints the air, coppery and sweet, making his stomach swim as the cold air gusts over him.
He walks by an alley, and stops when he sees a woman hunched over a body, her ebony hair caked in sticky red gunk. A scythe with a formidable silver blade lays forgotten to the side. He approaches the woman and notices she’s shuddering in the freezing air. He steps closer and closer, drawn to this power woman. She hears him and stops to look up.
Her eyes are silver and swimming with streaks of crimson as blood pours from her eyes and rouge lips. “Please,” she whispers, barely audible in the howling wind. “Help me. Stop me.” She reaches a pale hand out for him. “Kill me.”
Adam looks down at the head lying forgotten in her lap. His stomach lurches and he heaves as he looks into his own face, drained of all color and life. A horn blares, far off in the recess of the night…
He’s yanked from the back and stumbles as his feet clod over each other. A hand steadies him while the cab driver shouts profanities and whips by.
“Are you all right?” a smooth alto asks.
“Uh, yeah,” Adam says, pulling his jacket back in to place. “Thanks. My head isn’t really attached today.”
She chuckles, silver and bubbly. “I’m sorry to hear that. You’re not from around here, are you?”
It’s then that Adam stops to look at the woman who saved him. She’s tall, easily meeting his eyes, with ebony hair fixed up in a loose bun, and wearing a long black leather coat, but it’s her eyes that draw him in—pools of silver with no discernable pupils.
He pulls himself out of the trance to find her staring quizzically at him. “Sorry. You just reminded me of someone. And no, I’m not from around here. I’m from Texas,” he says, running a sheepish hand through his dirty-dishwater hair.
Her brows rise. “Texas? I haven’t been there in a while. New York is an entirely different ball game.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Thanks again for saving me from that cab. It’d suck to have my brains splattered on the sidewalk,” he says with a crooked grin.
She tilts her head back and laughs, throaty and deep in the early night. “I can see where that would be detrimental. Well, I’d best be going. Stay out of the cabbies’ ways. They don’t tend to stop around here.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She nods, and turns to walk off. A glint of light catches his eye. He reaches down and picks up a flat, silver stone, barely the size of his palm. “Miss, I think you dropped this.”
She turns and glances over her shoulder. “Keep it. It’s worthless to me. Maybe it’ll bring you some good luck, newbie.”
He stares at the stone, stroking a gloved hand across the polished quicksilver—the color of her eyes. “Uh, thanks.” When he looks up again, she’s gone. Adam shrugs and puts the stone in his pocket, whistling into the night air.
Wind dances lightly in the fading oranges and reds of sunset. Diana digs the toe of her boot into the concrete of the roof, just up against the edge. It wouldn’t do to have the boot fall off now. No, not at all.
She tosses her leather jacket off to the side and takes a step back, then another. One, two, three times until she nears the far edge of the building. She takes a breath, emptying her mind and silencing the orchestra of sound barreling at her from the city below: the blaring of horns and the bass of radios, of registers dinging open and whispers of lovers in the apartments below her feet. The wind brushes a strand of raven hair past her face then stills.
Diana takes off, pressing her heels deep into the concrete, her arms swinging in tune to the movement. She approaches the edge of the building and leaps. She flies over the street below, filled with ant-like cars and the people inside them flecks of earth passing by. She soars, hanging in the air, weightless and free as a bird…
Her left heel makes contact with the wall of the next building and she stands tall, straightening her crimson sweater. “Well, what do you think?” she asks the man standing on the far end of the roof. “Do you believe me now?”
She had a feeling that he might be handsome, but couldn’t be entirely sure. In her eyes, he was an aqua outline with flecks of gold swimming in and around him—a characteristic most lost coming into adulthood. It was her sacrifice, unchanging eternity for sight. Hardly a fair trade.
“I’m not sure,” Adam says, laughter bubbling at the edge of his voice. “I think I need some more convincing.”
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Diana knows that this is a mistake. This man cannot lead to anything good. He will crumble and pass on as the years wear by, just like the rest of the people in this city. The longer he stays, mortal and ever-changing, the more he will resent her, hate her, and hurt her. But he will have the bliss of death, while she will be left with his memory.
But for a moment, just a brief moment, in her lonely and damned walk stuck here in limbo, doesn’t she have the right to be happy?
“What did you have in mind?”
The flecks of gold around Adam buzzed in a wild whirlwind, leaping and spinning like a jackrabbit on speed. “I think I have a few ideas.”
“Well then, what are we waiting for?”
“After you, my lady,” he says, finishing the statement with a flourished bow.
She laughs, golden and bubbly as the moon takes her place in the sky. Tonight, she will have her moment of happiness to carry her through the years, but just for tonight.
The process of creative writing remains one of the most complex yet simple processes in the world. It is a practice that most have been exposed to in some form or fashion since we first pick up that marvelous first book, yet the first time most people sit in front of the computer, the white page of death and the unceasingly blinking cursor are enough to drive hordes of would-be authors screaming back into their realms of comfort.
I’m leaning towards a fantasy story, involving a character by the name of Diana who has haunted me for years. From the first time I mentally saw her, a lone vampire cloaked in moonlight, toting a scythe with silver eyes that could literally see into a person’s soul, her exploits fascinated me. I have hordes of dialogue and random clips of scenes stockpiled on my computer and in various notebooks, including my journal. Likely my best tool to finish the story is to use the quilting technique, and see what direction my character is leading me, then fill in the details from that point.
The audacity and discipline to complete a story is merely one feat. To edit and revise a work, in my own opinion, requires more courage than finishing a piece in the first place. Since this character has plagued my thoughts for some time, it will be difficult to delete clips that, while inherently may not benefit the story, have been a part of this character and her story for a while.
Revision wise, probably the most vital objective I must conquer is giving my protagonist a clearly defined antagonist; perhaps not in the sense of a villain, but rather through her own internal struggle between her humanity and baser instincts. I had considered giving Diana an external foe, but due to the length of the final assignment and the sake of overall simplicity, I’m leaning toward making Diana’s draconic tattoo, engrained in her skin for as long as she can remember, the antagonist.
The character Adam is a relatively new character to Diana’s plight. I introduced him to the story in WJ16, and so I’ll need to develop him more thoroughly. At the moment, I am not sure what his connection to Diana is. He has recurring dreams of her, but does not realize who she is or what those dreams mean. I’ll need to solidify that bond and clarify in order to see how it affects the story.
Various locations and settings will need research. I had originally intended the story’s setting to be New York City, though when I planned this, I had just recently returned to Texas from a trip there many years ago. Coffee shops tend to be recurring settings in this piece, another aspect that I must delve into.
I suppose the overall point of my extensively long and blathering drawn out entry boils down to the fact that I need to: 1) develop my characters more, 2) figure out where this story is going, and 3) solidify the setting. So I’m essentially taking the bones of my story and attempting to create a skeleton, which will hopefully resemble a direction for the story. Any and all suggestions are greatly appreciated J
There is a woman in the far corner of the room, probably not any older than Adam, just out of the evening’s stealthy light. The overhead lamp flickers, once, twice, and dies. Her hair is so dark it glints purple as a stray ray of light flickers through. Adam stares at the woman, and she returns the favor. Her eyes bore into him, silver and pupilless, a pool of swirling quicksilver.
“Uh, sir? That’ll be $3.56.”
Adam turns his emerald eyes back on the barista. She’s a cute girl, with a wide smile and a sprinkle of freckles that foundation failed to cover.
“Right, right,” he mutters and digs out his wallet.
Adam looks up to see the silver eyes mere inches from him. She slides a bill across the counter then turns and glides back to her booth. Adam’s distraction is broken when he notices the barista hanging over the counter.
“She’s hot,” the girl says, nodding in approval. “Are you going after her or what?”
“Thanks for the coffee.” The artist grabs his coffee and takes a quick half-jog toward the woman.
“Careful. It’s hot,” he hears her say.
“Dammit,” he mutters as the coffee sloshes on his hand.
The woman eyes him from the rim of her own cup. “I warned you.”
“That you did. Is this seat taken?”
She waves an absent hand and leans back, sinking into the wearing leather.
“So, thanks for the coffee. Mind if I ask why?”
“Adam—that is your name, correct?” He nods quickly. “I find you interesting. And it’s more than obvious that you find me interesting. In accordance to courtesy, I believe I have the right to ask why.”
The young man sits back, exhaling a long sigh. “Well, this is a little embarrassing, and cheesy as hell, but you look like this woman I’ve been dreaming about.”
“A dream woman?” The corners of her mouth turn up slightly. “Please, tell me about her.”
“Well, there’s not much to say, really. I see her almost every night now—a goddess who looks just like you in a sea of cold fire. But there’s something odd.”
“What?” she asks, leaning forward with her cup in hand.
“She has wings and a tail, like an old-fashioned dragon—“
The woman jerks her head to the right and narrows her eyes. For the briefest moment, crimson swims at the edges of her visible eye. Adam dips his head and takes another sip of his coffee, finally cool enough to drink. That’s when he notices her wrist, barely exposed.
“Interesting tattoo you have there,” he says, and points at her wrist. A silver, scaled tail wraps around her forearm.
She stares at him blankly for a moment and then looks down. “What tattoo?”
“Isn’t there a tail wrapped around your wrist?”
“No,” she shakes her head, rolling up her sleeve for him to see the smooth, flawless flesh. “Nothing here.”
“Oh. Must have just been imagining it.”
“It’s all right. So what does this dream goddess do when you see her?”
“She always whispers to me, but I can never hear what she says, until last night.”
“What did she say?”
“She asked for my blood.”
The woman’s eyes narrow, and she rubs her temple. “So she’s a vampire?”
Adam shrugs. “I guess.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, doesn’t it seem odd that a vampire would ask for blood? Besides, I’ve never heard of a vampire with the wings and tail of a dragon?”
“I suppose it doesn’t go with the stereotypical image. But have you considered what a true vampire might look like?”
“You’re not saying they real, are you?”
“All I know is that this world isn’t always how it appears, Adam. You’d take care to remember that.”
“How do you know my name?”
The woman winks at him. “All in due time. Now if you’ll pardon me, I have an engagement that I would love to blow off, but sadly can not. Until next time.”
“What’s your—“ He looks toward the door to see it swinging shut. “Name. Dammit.”
“Diana.” Adam takes one last gulp of the coffee and tosses the cup as he heads toward the door. His hand twitched with nervous excitement. Maybe now he could get the image out of his head.
My ears ring. Blood—so slow, too slow—pulses, achingly inching, through my veins.
Feed, my body says, and I hear them, the people all around me. I hear them move in droves, close, yet so far away. They move in gusts, powerful blasts of wind in the desert, my desert.
I close my eyes and exhale, letting my body fall to the bottom of the pool. The feet of young children tread the water above me. Their laughs are gargled. It’s the heartbeat I hear, music to my ears.
People, I tell myself. They are people with brothers and sisters, mother and fathers, lovers and friends. People.
But I am in the desert, with the gusts of wind and no end of sand in sight. Dry. It’s so dry here. I could just crack one cacti open, and suck a little juice. Just enough to hold me for another decade or so. Just a little to make the agonizing pain end.
Like hell it will.
Another burst of oxygen I didn’t realize was still in me burst to the surface, next to the kicking child. I push myself up to the surface and sputter. I stumble through the shallow end, drunk with the madness seeping in at the corners of my mind. My body aches with thirst.
“Miss, are you okay?” a child asks me. She grasps my hand. “My mommy can help. She’s a nurse.”
I yank my hand out of hers and then everything falls apart. She spins, falling, falling into the concrete edge of the pool. She hits her forehead and my ambrosia, sweeter than the finest nectars and more sustaining to me than any water in this world, spills out.
“Shit,” I mutter and leap out of the pool. I hear the lifeguards blowing their plastic whistles, but I keep running, leaving wet footprints in my wake.
I slide into the basement and bury myself in a forgotten bag of Styrofoam peanuts. They crunch and crumble as I adjust. A hidden, rusted bar gouges my arm. Black ooze slips out, sending my sense wild again.
Just a taste of the girl’s blood would heal this, says the demon in my mind. A little bite to make all the pain go away.
“And it would damn me to Hell.”
You’re already there, is the last thought that floats through me as I fall into the sand, letting the approaching storm bury me alive.
Shadows linger in every corner. It shouldn’t have bothered me, but something is wrong. The corners remain dark, no matter how hard I try to see. Fear begins to seep into my bones. I reach my power out, trying to sense the presence of any others.
“This was a stupid idea,” I mutter.
I feel the dragon’s agreement. Yes. Let’s be quick about this.
I reach for the blue orb and hold it out. Theoretically, it should glow when it approaches another orb with the same marking. Same marking, same master. Find the matching orb, find the vamp who sent the werewolves after me, find Jonathan’s killer. Simple enough. I should have a plan for what to do when I reach that point, but I don’t. I’m honestly afraid to have one.
The pendent gives a steady hum as I carry it through the room, but after searching all the corners, it still remains a cloudy blue.
“There must be another place, another room somewhere.”
Use your powers. Reach out to it.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. The core of magic, my magic, sings quietly to me. I gently tug at it, coaxing it to the surface. When I open my eyes, the world changes. Blue aura clouds the surfaces, stronger in places people have recently been. There’s a steady line of deep blue not too far ahead. I touch it and feel a dark, immortal presence.
This is the trail I was searching for. I follow it, past the back of the building and out on a pier. The line on the pier ends, but a fuzzy trail is on the surface of the water. I dive into the depths. The dragon separates from me. I climb to the back of his neck and we push through the water, impossibly deep for a mere harbor.
Common sense screams at me to turn back. This is too convenient, too easy. It’s a trap, and we both know it, but I have to keep going.
When we reach the bottom, there’s a door. It glows brilliantly with its own aura. Ancient, by the looks of it. It’s worn from years of being underwater, with faded symbols smooth from the force of water.
The dragon’s eyes whirl a greenish-blue as he opens his mouth in a muffled roar. Every time I see his magic work, I’m amazed by it again. A deep part of me is envious at the depth, the control of his power. A white orb forms between his jaws, and the door responds, glowing white with power. A line forms between the dragon’s orb and the door and it opens.
We push through and push up through the surface of the water to discover an underwater cave. The dragon grudgingly reattaches to me as I haul myself up on a stone walkway.
The dark aura trail continues. I follow it through down a long hallway and into a massive room, a cave in its own right. I hear clapping in the distance.
“Well done, my dear. Very well done.”
I freeze at that voice. I recognize it immediately. It is Edward. In my lapse of attention, my power slips, sliding out of my control. I curse myself. In the briefest second, I lose my power and fail to realize he’s here.
“Don’t berate yourself, my girl. I am an Ancient. If I want myself known, I make it apparent. You are skilled to be so young, but you are not that talented.” He strides over to me, black hair glistening in the dark light of the cave. “My power is quite great,” he whispers in my ear, far too close for personal comfort. “I might share it with you, for a price. You have proven yourself worthy of many things.”
“What price would that be?”
“Give me the power of the dragon.”
I feel a tension in my body that does not belong to me. Outrage bursts in incoherent images and flashes of light. It takes every ounce of control I have just to stand.
He smiles, an all-knowing smile of an adult telling a child the ways of the world. “My dear, mortals have long walked the surface of Earth for far too long. These arrangements the Council keep making are pointless. The Eldest on the Council has been in power since before this very nation was formed. Why should we be subservient to mortals who sicken, cripple, and die in the mere blink of an eye to us? They are food, nothing more, nothing less.”
“You’re out of your mind. Humans are not cattle.”
“But they are, my dear. They are.”
I reach out, appealing to any sense of humanity he has left. “You were human once.”
“But I was chosen for more. Besides, with the dragon’s power, there will be no more human turnings. We will be able to create more vampires all our own.”
This is madness! His plan will never work!
“Quiet you,” Edward says, sending a wave of power in me to silence the dragon. “Now, dear, I have another proposition for you.” He runs a long, cool finger down my neck. “Surrender the dragon, and I make you queen of a new age, ruler by my side.”
I feel every muscle in my body tense up at his touch, and it certainly isn’t pleasurable. I know he can read me, but I pray he is arrogant enough to chalk it up to nervousness. “I don’t even know how to free myself of the dragon.”
“I can take care of that,” he says, lowering his lips to my neck.
In a deft movement, he plunges his teeth into my neck. I retaliate, trying to shove him off, but he’s stronger than me, far too strong. I feel the dragon struggle to lock into my skin and it’s painful, so very painful. I feel like my flesh is being peeled off. I begin to see white spots. I can’t take anymore, so I do the one thing that always exacts a response from a man: I knee him in the balls.
Edward throws his head back and roars, shaking the cave. His dark eyes flash red, red from bleeding me. He reaches out and slaps me, throwing me across the room and into the wall. When I stand, he’s on me, pressing my front half into the slick, hard surface of the cave.
“That was not a wise move, my dear.” His voice barely contains his rage. “Now I will force it out of you, and this will be very painful.” He plunges his teeth into my neck again and I cry out. “Yes, grow angry,” he says. He uses his torso to keep my upper body and arms pinned to the wall while his left hand grabs my hair and holds my head still. “I want to feed on your anger,” he whispers into my exposed neck. His free hand wanders up my shirt. “I want to feed on your rage.” He squeezes my breast and I’m pissed.
I kick back with my right leg, delivering a scorpion kick to the back of his skull. Planting it, I spin around and kick his temple. I blow like that would crush a mortal’s skull. It crushed Edward’s, but unfortunately, he recovers quickly. I dash back to the water as I hear his dark laughter, gargled by blood.
Before I can dive in, Edward appears in front of me, dried blood marring his beautiful smile. “My, my. Kitty has claws.” He dives at me, slightly to the right. I spin out, raising my leg for a downward kick. It lands on his shoulder and I hear a sick crack. He grabs my leg with his unbroken arm and throws me across the room. Damn, he’s good.
I cough up blood as I use my right hand to stand. Edward’s close to me again. It doesn’t take me by surprise this time, but I’m tired. He circles me, like a wild cat about to plunge into its prey. A drop of blood lingers on my lips. Edward raises his freshly healed arm and rubs his thumb across them. He pulls his hand back and I see deep crimson taint his black eyes. He brings the blood, my blood, close to his lips.
No! I feel the dragon cry out, free of Edward’s spell.
I lose control of myself then. Before it can register in my mind, my right hand is up, arm swinging in an uppercut with my fingers out, nails razor sharp.
I see something in Edward’s eyes as my nails pierce the skin under his chin and drive into his skull. Fear. I feel that morbid satisfaction swimming in my belly as he flies backward, skidding to a stop just before the water.
His hair is wet when I grab him, swimming in a mix of salty water and metallic blood. I lower myself to his frame, taking in that sweet perfume, a potent aphrodisiac that calls to me unceasingly. The dragon cautions me, acting as a conscience, yet again. I pull back, breaking the spell as Edward’s eyes gain light again.
“Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll pass,” I say and plunge his head into the water. It’s funny, in a sick and slightly morbid way, that even after all the years Edward has been a vampire, that he still struggles for air. We are living corpses. Oxygen is not necessary, but he still fights to be above the surface.
His blood pours into the water and he stops struggling. He glares at me, eyes glowing in the stilling water.
“Shit” is all I have time to say before pale hands grab my hair and pull me into the water. I hadn’t counted on him to stop struggling for a while.
The dragon breaks free of my skin and Edward glances at it in confusion. Scaly jowls curl up, in the beast’s version of a smile. He rushes us then, jaws open wide. He flies right through Edward and hovers nearby, aggravation radiating off of him.
The magic bonding me to you must also make me only solid to you. I cannot help you anymore, Diana. This is your fight now.
A cruel smile spreads across Edward’s lips. Cold fear strikes my gut. Power ripples through him and into me. My skin burns and white flashes behind my eyes. I feel his fangs graze my neck through a mess of ebony hair, but the pain, oh god the pain.
I call to my own core of magic, fighting the every distraction—Edward’s tongue on my neck, teasing me, the dragon’s helpless fury, the pulse of the water, rocking back and forth. I find the power, deep in me and brush it. I tug, harder and harder, pulling it with me to the surface.
Suddenly, I’m engulfed in darkness. It is complete and total, a blanket covering my line of sight, but it’s warm. I linger in the warmth. I could stay here forever and not mind.
A voice calls out to me. Diana…
“Go away,” I whisper. I want to be alone right now.
“Let me be.”
The power rushes over me then, yanking me back to the cold water. I open my eyes, at least I think I do. The dark blanket still covers them. I see a crimson light, far off underneath the surface. I don’t know how, but I feel that it is Edward. Fear, genuine, and utter fear rolls off him in waves. He rushes me, a dark crimson blur in the depths.
I move to the right, just as he passes, and grab him by the nape of the neck. I circle once, twice, still holding on to him, and throw him into the wall. The strength is incredible.
He struggles out, crimson essence flowing out of him and mingling in the water. I feel the power sing to me. I let it float to the surface of my consciousness. It is a blue ball of light, even in my darkened vision. I let it build for just a moment and blast it at Edward. His body struggles, fighting it for a moment. The blue light seeps in him, overcoming the dark red of his aura. It works in him, taking him from the outside in. I hear his heart speed up, trying to fight the power of my magic. It stops, and the blue fades. His body falls into the depths, aura growing weaker as it leaves his body.
Cool scales brush against me and I see the silvery light of my dragon. Let us go. Dawn will be upon us soon.
We leave and he crawls back into my skin as I break through the surface and climb back on the pier. I enter my place, still dripping, just as the sun begins to rise. I feel it, rather than see it. I stop for a moment, trying to call the power back. I want to see the light fill the sky as day conquers yet again. The blanket stays, unmovable on my eyes. I realize in that moment, that I don’t mind. I laugh, a bitter, loud, full laugh.
What is funny? The dragon asks. He is tired and irritable.
“Not funny,” I say. “Just ironic.”
I close the door and walk over to the window, throwing it open, embracing the feel of life dancing in the room.