She found the dog while weeding the front yard, muttering under her breath about the injustice of having to do chores during the summer holiday. She heard its breath before she saw it; harsh panting that could've been audible from a hundred feet off. It wasn't until she looked up over the shrubbery that she spotted it. Eyes that at first glance appeared brown gleamed in the sunlight, showing a hint of deep blood-red. The coat was long and messy, almost curled, but oddly tidy, without a trace of mud or dirt to ruin its healthy sheen. The paws were as big as her hands and tipped with curved claws of identical lengths.
Her initial reaction was to stand up and reach for the gardening spade lying at her side, raising it like a weapon, wishing it was a pitchfork so she might inflict more damage. She shouted at the dog to sit down, but it continued to stare blankly at her with those dark-crimson eyes that never wavered. Its ears – tall and angular – were swivelling in every direction to listen for noises, but the beast's head and body were as motionless as death.
She then reasoned that perhaps the dog was a stray and had never been taught commands. With that idea in mind, she settled for a more physical approach, marching forwards with the spade held low at her side. It was metal, and rather heavy, but she wasn't sure she could swing it fast enough to knock the creature back if it decided to bite.
The dog didn't move until she was within striking range of its teeth, whereupon it bared its fangs – just the very points, sharp and unusually white – as it surged upwards with a powerful movement. She saw the muscles rippling beneath its shiny pelt and, in the same moment, realised that the dog reached almost to her shoulder when stood at its fullest height. The body started to weave gently from side-to-side like a cat about to pounce on prey, but the eerie thing about the dog wasn't its unnaturally bright teeth, or its gleaming fur, or even its size; it was its silence. Not a hint of a growl emanated from between the beast's heavy jaws, yet she could tell from its body language that it intended to attack.
The spade flew up like a parrying sword. She heard her voice whispering with a calmness that she did not feel, telling the dog she meant no harm, all while slowly backing along the driveway. Her father's car was not there, which was lucky, for it gave her more room to manoeuvre and evade the beast.
The dog advanced with cunning swiftness, still keeping the edges of its fangs protruding from its upper jaw. Within seconds she was backed against the garage door and had nowhere else to go. She began to notice tiny details in the dog's appearance, like the scar across its muzzle and the fact that its coat was dark-brown, not black.
She was resigned to being killed at that point, knowing it was hopeless to try and outrun the dog, and knowing there was no chance of her managing to open the garage door or climb onto the roof before the glittering fangs caught up with her. Everyone dies someday, and she accepted that her time had come, if a little earlier than she'd expected.
But then the distant sound of her mother's voice calling her name echoed across the front garden, and the beast's sharp ears pinned back as it listened attentively for perhaps thirty seconds. The voice rang out a second time, and the dog let out a huffing breath that sounded strangely like a laugh, before abruptly turning its tail and scampering off up the driveway with surprising lightness.
She watched it go, ignoring her mother's increasingly insistent shouting, which sounded as if it were coming from the opposite end of a long tunnel. It took an age for her to drop the spade and step away from the garage door that she'd pressed herself against for safety. She wasn't afraid. The dog hadn't touched her, but the memory of its crimson eyes, so akin to dark pooling blood, refused to leave the front of her mind.
She found the snake while camping in the marshy woods ten miles from home, a school trip she wouldn't have participated in if not for the insistence of her mother and teacher. It was the break of dawn and the air was chill, due it being almost October. She left her tent in her nightclothes with the intention of going to the outdoor tap for some water, the dew-covered grass crunching pleasantly under her bare feet. The tap was half-hidden behind a wall of branches and brambles, and she didn't see the snake until it let out a warning hiss, prompting her to leap backwards in shock.
It was not large, but its smooth skin was black-and-brown, an unusual colour, and she could not recognise its species. It forked tongue flickered restlessly in and out as it scented the morning air, but its most distinguishing feature was undoubtedly the blood-red eyes that gazed up at her with a curious sort of intelligence that seemed wrong for an animal, let alone a reptile.
Normally she would have run for her life upon seeing a snake as peculiar-looking as this, but her encounter with the dog a few months ago had taught her to be more courageous. She looked the creature squarely in the face and did not turn aside, even when it slithered forwards to sniff at her ankles. She had no idea if it was venomous and did not wish to find out.
In the end, she treated the snake the same way she had treated the dog. As it hissed and moved forth to sink its long curved fangs into her unprotected foot, she remained completely motionless and didn't allow herself to waver or flinch in the slightest. And this course of action turned out to be the right one. The snake opened its mouth, poised to strike, but turned its fangs aside at the last moment and she never felt the brush of them against her skin.
The snake twisted back on itself and slid into the undergrowth without a sound, leaving her to gaze after it in surprise, wonder, and suspicion. How many more strange creatures like this would she meet, and what exactly were they? She felt no confusion when these questions raced through her mind, because she was one-hundred-percent sure that neither the snake nor the dog had been ordinary animals, and she knew in her heart that there was some connection between them.
She found the bat while wandering outside late one night in November, after an unsettling dream woke her up and stopped her from sleeping again. She had dreamed about animals with grim red eyes that followed her ceaselessly, watching her, and she couldn't escape them no matter where she went; she remembered running into a deep, dark forest and hiding inside a hollow tree, only to find a large spider with black-and-brown markings sitting unnaturally still on the bark.
So she left her room and ventured out into the back garden, careful to avoid disturbing her parents. She didn't think they would notice her absence as long as she wasn't out for more than an hour or so.
The night air was cold and refreshing; she hugged her coat tightly around her shoulders and watched her breath turning to icy vapour as she drew in deep lungfuls of oxygen. The moon was just barely visible behind a veil of wispy grey clouds and a slight breeze blew across the garden, rustling the trees with a sound that struck fear into her. She wouldn't be able to see if someone was creeping up on her, and although it was her own garden and should have been perfectly safe, some instinct was telling her that something was wrong. No – something was about to happen.
She turned quickly and heard the leathery wingbeats before the creature flapped over her head, so close that it ruffled her hair back. Stifling a yelp, she turned again and struggled to follow its movement with eyes that strained in the darkness, unable to see more than a few feet in any direction. Then she spotted it; a huge bat, furred and powerful-looking, swooping in elegant spirals around the birch tree in the corner of the garden. She let out a breath, relieved that the creature was only an animal, but the night's shocks weren't over yet. The bat spun down towards her a second time, aiming to attack, and she caught a momentary glimpse of a pair of sharp little crimson eyes, identical to those of the snake and dog but ten times smaller.
She ducked, feeling the draught of air as the creature dived past at lightning speed. The buzz of its descent was immediately followed by the thump of a small body hitting the earth, and she looked around, half-expecting to see the bat lying injured in the grass.
But what she saw standing not five feet behind her was neither a bat, nor a snake, nor even a dog. It was a tall and slender figure with those same blood-red eyes glistening through the darkness, and despite her poor vision she could see he was elegantly dressed in a sweeping cloak and dark boots. His clothing was entirely black, but his hair was a deep shade of brown that could have been mistaken for the same colour at a distance. In the dim light she could not tell. The night seemed to strip away everything in her mind that would, in the daytime, disregard this creature as a dream or hallucination, and she saw him for what he was without a shadow of doubt.
Along with that beautiful clarity came a complete cessation of fear, and she found herself walking towards him with slow steady footsteps, unafraid, knowing that even if she died tonight, she would die knowing that anything was possible. Anything she believed was a myth could exist.
And she would die happily.
The vampire smiled, showing long fangs that gleamed white and translucent at the tips. The greatest of humanity's leaders, emperors, warriors and rulers could not compare with the sense of sheer power that radiated from him, the same power she had felt when gazing into the eyes of the dog, the snake and the bat. His power revealed itself in his ability to switch forms, flowing from one animal to the next as smoothly as water, and she looked into his glittering blood-red eyes and saw all his other forms hiding in their depths.
She had not spoken out loud to any of his other shapes, the exception being when she'd shouted at the huge dog, fearful that it would attack her. But her fear had drained away into nothingness now. She stepped deliberately forwards and stretched up an arm, eerily pale in the starlight.
The vampire's hand emerged from the folds of his dark cloak and enclosed itself around hers, the expression on his face a strange mixture of amusement, boredom, and curiosity. They shook.
'What's your name?' she asked, because it seemed somehow fitting to ask the title of the creature that might kill her.
'Selwyn,' he responded immediately, as if he'd been waiting for her to ask that very question.
'You've been following me. Why?'
'I had nothing better to do.' He smiled again, showing fangs that looked like they might pierce metal. 'And I was fascinated when I met a human who did not flee from me in abject terror.'
That did not entirely answer her question, so she tried again. 'But why would you want to follow me, just because I'm not scared of you? It seems like such a waste of time.'
'My time is limitless,' Selwyn replied. His tone was so casual that they might have been discussing the weather over a cup of tea and crumpets, all while sitting in the pleasant warmth of a café. 'And it is so... rare for me to see a human who does not fear my kind.'
'Well,' she said, 'we've got every right to fear you. You kill humans, don't you?'
'My dear, what am I supposed to live on? Air? We are the hunters of your species, the wanderers, the roamers in the dark, the immortal killers. My craving for blood is not merely a game to while away the long nights; it is necessary to me, and my undead existence, such as it is, depends upon it.'
She understood. 'So why haven't you killed me yet?'
'As I said, I was curious. Enthralled, really. In my centuries of shadowed life I have never encountered someone like you, someone who watches me as I hunt them, and yet who doesn't run and scream.' The crimson eyes showed something like approval, but in the darkness she could not be certain of anything she saw. 'Now, my dear fearless human, would you give me the honour of your name?' His voice was courteous, with a hint of challenge, even mockery.
'I'm Olivia,' she replied, for she knew it was only polite to tell someone your name if they've already told you theirs. For some reason she also felt compelled to add, 'I'm thirteen.'
Selwyn's mouth twitched in a smirk. 'Young, even by the standards of your short-lived race. Certainly young enough to be frightened of the monsters that live under the bed.'
'There aren't any monsters under my bed,' Olivia said.
'Oh?' The vampire's tone was playful now, but his blood-coloured eyes held a spark of danger. 'Then are the monsters in the house, perhaps?'
'Not in the house.'
'Then the garden.'
'Not the garden, either.'
For a fraction of a second he looked bewildered, then the smooth mask slid back into place, blocking any hint of emotion. 'Silly me. So where, pray tell, do your monsters live?'
She stepped closer until only a foot of space separated them, proving to him that there was no fear left in her bloodstream. As a giant dog he had scared her, but their repeated encounters in different forms had told her something very valuable.
'Nowhere,' she said simply. 'Because there aren't any monsters. You're not a monster.'
'So you say, and yet not five minutes ago you were questioning why I am taking so long to kill you.'
'I know better now,' Olivia answered. 'I met you before, in three different shapes, and you never tried to hurt me. I know, because every time we met you had the perfect opportunity to finish me off, but every time you missed your chance. Monsters don't show mercy.'
'Ah, but vampires are not like other monsters, my dear,' said Selwyn with gleeful good humour. 'We follow. We watch. We wait until the right moment, and then we make our kill.'
'And,' she continued calmly, as if there had been no interruption, 'monsters don't talk to people.'
'Perhaps I am merely enjoying a spot of civil conversation before dinner,' the vampire pointed out, though his smile no longer quite reached his eyes.
'Give up, Selwyn,' she said. 'You don't really want to kill me, so tell me exactly why you're here tonight.'
She knew the moment she had him beaten; he released a great sigh as his long fingers curled at the edges of his cloak, pulling the voluminous garment tighter. For the first time she was able to view him not as a supposedly-mythical creature brought magically to life, but as another being no different from herself, and for that brief moment nothing seemed to exist besides themselves, the cold wind, and the shadows creeping across the dark garden.
'Very well,' she said wearily. 'I did not come here to feed tonight. There is much better blood out there to taste, and I confess this hideous little town would have repelled all but the most enduring vampires.'
'Then why?' asked Olivia, not particularly offended by the jibe directed at her hometown. It was true, anyway. She hated it here too.
'I am growing bored,' said Selwyn. 'And in my old age I find myself thirsting for something other than the scent of rich blood. Simply put, my long years of wandering alone have begun to catch up with me.' He spoke as if the words were painful and humiliating. 'I want a friend, a companion to roam the night alongside me, killing and drinking lifeblood to our heart's content.'
'So find another vampire.'
'My dear, vampires are not pack animals,' he said, sounding mildly insulted by the very idea. 'Indeed, I might be the first of my kind to communicate with humanity in a way that does not involve a fang to the jugular.'
Olivia considered it. 'Would I be able to come back and see my family?' she eventually asked after what felt like a long and uncomfortable pause.
'It might not be a good idea,' Selwyn warned. 'They probably won't take kindly to the prospect of their daughter travelling with a creature they don't believe exists.'
'Then I'd never be able to see them.' Strangely, the thought of being exiled from the people she knew did not bother her. She had never been very close to her parents, who never seemed to want to take time from the own schedules to play with her, even when she'd been a small child. All they really did was shout at each other and go to work.
And ever since that hot, dry afternoon when she'd seen the dark dog watching her intently from over the shrubbery, she had felt a curious pull towards it. Her later encounters with the snake, bat, and now the vampire himself had only served to strengthen that pull. She wanted to do something no human had ever done before, because they hadn't been brave enough, or they simply hadn't believed it was in any way possible. The night air rustled the branches of the trees, but the noise didn't frighten her anymore.
'OK,' she said, surprising even herself with the calmness of that one short statement. Selwyn only watched her with hooded eyes, as if waiting for her to shout, 'just kidding!'
Finally he folded his arms and said, 'You do realise that this will change your life entirely? You will never be able to return here, never be able to speak to your parents... you will become one of us, a vampire, and once the change is done there is no turning back.'
Olivia nodded. 'That's all right. I don't want to be normal, and do the things my parents do. I don't want to go to work and live in a house and... be ordinary.' She had never spat the word with as much venom as she did now, but in the moment she said it, she knew she'd hated it all her life.
She wasn't sure which part of her speech convinced Selwyn, but she saw the dark veil lift itself from over his eyes and a hint of a genuine smile appear on his face. He said nothing more, but reached out a silvery-white hand towards her in invitation. She took hold of it, and every little scrap of the fear she'd felt when confronting his previous forms was all gone, leaving nothing but a strength she never knew she had. This was what she wanted. This was what she'd been waiting her whole life to do, without even realising.
Selwyn's form rippled like a shadow across the surface of a lake, and the hand enclosed in hers was suddenly ripped away as it became a horse's hoof. He snorted and tossed his newly-formed head, cold vapour rising from flared nostrils. Olivia leapt easily onto his back, and he turned and bounded over the garden fence before galloping away into the night, human and vampire, a duo that nature never intended to work and yet – impossibly – it did.
The comforting darkness swallowed them up, and they were gone from sight in a heartbeat.