“Who are you?! How did you get in here?!” I shrieked and kicked, but my limbs seemed to pass through him. Unwavering, he stared down at me with his bone-chilling gaze.
“Measly little human,” he muttered. His shadowy arm rose, and suddenly, an invisible force clasped my neck and pulled me up until my feet left the ground.
My hands hurriedly scratched at my neck, but there was nothing there. My lungs burned in pain. No matter what I did, the pressure around my neck remained; I was utterly helpless.
“You don’t need to know who I am. Yet.” His face was so handsome it was mesmerizing, but his threatening tone pierced right through me. His pale blue eyes swirled black with a red ring locked around the pupil.
“You’ll be far from your old life from now on.”
The alarm resonated noisily throughout the room, penetrating my eardrums. My eyes snapped open, and I screamed out loud. I twisted into my covers and rubbed my arms, cold sweat covering my back. I briskly gulped in as much air as I could. The white-hot burning around my neck didn’t cease.
I gradually soothed my rapid, shallow breaths and clicked my alarm clock. It read 7:00 AM. The first time I got any sleep in three days ended in a nightmare. I dabbed some sweat off of my forehead. For a few minutes, everything I looked at resembled the shadowy figure I saw too vividly just a moment ago. That dream almost felt too real.
I groggily flipped out of my bed and onto the carpet, not even bothering to attempt to comb my sandy blonde disastrous bedhead.
What a great way to start the morning of my eighteenth birthday.
As I got dressed, I stared into the full-body mirror at my hazel eyes that I was named after. It brought along annoying nicknames like Hazy and Hazelnut, but it was one of the only things my parents left me.
Another thing was a white vase that was beginning to fade yellow from time; it had been standing on my bedside table for the past eight years. I poured some water for the ruby red roses inside. Red roses were my mother’s favorite things in the world, and I intended to keep this faint memory of her until the day my heart stopped beating.
Just then, I heard the front door open. My senses had heightened in these past two years. I could adjust my eyesight much faster during night as well, which was neat since I got insomnia on average about thrice a week. I made sure the roses were adequately tended to before heading down the stairs and greeting him. “Morning, Arthur.”
He beamed when he saw me, showing the crow’s feet on the edges of his eyes. “There’s the birthday girl! I got you a present!”
I smiled at his enthusiasm. Arthur Carrington, my guardian who raised me after my parents passed away. He was best friends with my father since high school, but I liked to think of him as my uncle.
I grabbed last night’s leftover sandwich from the fridge and replied with feigned excitement, “Thanks! I do hope it’d be as exciting as the princess doll I got last year.”
He completely ignored my sarcastic tone and opened the front door. “Even better. Take a look.”
I flung my school bag over one shoulder and followed him out. The sandwich bag in my hand dropped onto the pavement when I saw what was in my driveway.
“I love you!” I screamed as I ran over to my brand new beautiful red convertible.
Arthur laughed at my anticipated reaction, then tossed me the keys. “Test it out. And be back right after school!”
He had to yell the last sentence as I was already backing out of my driveway, eager to try this new baby out. The engine roared to life down the neighborhood’s secluded morning streets.
Comfortable wind combed through my hair and vigorously thrashed strands against the sides of my head. I gripped onto the steering wheel a little tighter and sincerely appreciated the cool leather against my hands. The radio played a popular new song. Even though it was the middle of March, I threw on a pair of sunglasses and imagined myself in a summer movie.
My short moment ended as the last note of the song trailed off, and the news came on.
“...I thought I led a normal life, but one night––” I irritatedly switched off the radio.
People these days needed to stop rambling on about the supernatural. The other day, I saw a headline titled Vampire Sighting in a local newspaper. Just like how people fabricated UFO and ghost sightings, it was annoying how often vampire sightings were reported.
My best friend, Kaydence, was obsessed with the idea that vampires lived among us. She regularly reminded me to bring garlic spray with me at all times, which I always laughed at and one time almost spat out my juice.
Seriously, they’re not real. Get over it.
This place seemed to be hooked on the idea of vampires and vampire hunters. I couldn’t wait to finish my senior year and leave for some peace and quiet in another city. Kaydence and I’d be friends no matter where we went. And Arthur had no trouble moving anywhere in the country with whatever job he had. Those two were the only ones I treasured enough to miss.
Arthur never spoke to me about his occupation, nor was I ever curious enough to ask. Every time I tried, the answer seemed immensely convoluted, so I gave up many years ago.
All of a sudden, a person appeared in my vision. I gasped and slammed on the brakes, jolting the car to a stop just an inch before it could’ve touched him. My heart pounded in fright, but he just stood there, unfazed, and glanced at me with unreadable dark brown eyes. He looked around my age.
“I’m so sorry!” I called out. Dammit, I must’ve zoned out so much I didn’t notice him in the middle of the street.
“Don’t worry about it,” he replied quietly before I could ask if he was alright, then proceeded to cross the street without glancing at me twice. I watched in bewilderment as he disappeared down the corner.
I clutched onto the steering wheel and took a short breath, then released the brake. I glanced in the direction he walked off to, but he vanished.
“Weird guy,” I mumbled. Deciding to skip breakfast, I drove further and arrived at my school’s parking lot.
I flung on a light blue and white cardigan over my black tank top before I locked my car. My dark blue skinny jeans stretched as I went up two steps at a time toward the front door.
Incoming trouble. I tried to ignore the person walking toward me in the hallway. The eye candy for whom every guy–and some girls–would clean the toilets for a week just to get five minutes alone with her; Hailee Greene. Hot popular girl with strawberry blonde hair and hazel eyes that had ten times more game than mine. She was also mostly friendly and got top-notch grades, so most people considered her perfect.
I didn’t. One thing about Hailee was that she hated me for lord knew what reason. Although I had to admit that that girl was naturally gorgeous, I could see the rotten heart pumping in her chest.
She strolled past me and murmured, “Someone didn’t look in a mirror this morning.”
I rolled my eyes in response, but as soon as I was out of her sight, I turned a corner to the washroom. She was right. Parts of my hair stuck up like a bird’s nest since I didn’t take the time to comb it this morning. I quickly fixed it up.
As soon as I walked out, an unyielding force crashed into my shoulder, almost knocking me over. I knew this feeling way too well.
“Hazel, there you are! Happy birthday!” Kaydence exclaimed, wrapping her arms around my shoulders and swinging me left and right.
“Have you seen the news yesterday? Dracul struck again!”
“Can you not?” I said with a deadpanned face. She switched the topic from my birthday to the news in a heartbeat.
For the past year, two out of every ten sentences she spoke were about vampires. She wasn’t always like this, and I had no idea what perked her interest that much. She brushed it off whenever I asked.
“Nope, I cannot!” Kaydence dragged me down the halls toward our lockers while she kept talking. “Rumour has it that he can control minds, isn’t that fascinating?”
“You’re the only person I know who finds this fascinating instead of horrifying,” I remarked.
“You see, there are reports of people who had this dream,” she continued with interest glittering in her gray eyes as she grabbed a textbook. “They said they vaguely remember a man with completely jet-black hair and pale blue eyes that turn dark. This would’ve been cuckoo if it were just you or me but think about it, at least six people had this exact dream before they were reported missing and later on discovered with bite marks on their necks or wrists. And think about how many people would’ve just dismissed it as a dream and never told anyone?”
I furrowed my eyebrows. Where had I heard about this dream before?
We took our seats behind Hailee and the empty chair beside her. Kaydence continued with her fallacy, “Don’t you think? That vampire could have a mind control ability, or even creating dreams!” She finished in a loud voice. In front of us, Hailee tilted her head slightly.
“What did you say the dream was about?” I asked.
“I knew you’d be interested!” Kaydence turned her body toward me, her curly ginger hair bouncing around her shoulders. “A vampire with pale blue eyes and hair as dark as night stared down at them in the middle of nowhere. He said something to them before his eyes turned black with a red ring, and as they try to cower away, they jolt awake. Every single time.”
I glanced up; Hailee had her head half-turned to listen in on Kaydence.
“What did the vampire say to the people?” I ask again. Kaydence grinned widely as this was my first time showing interest in the topic.
“Unfortunately, nobody remembered what he said to them, but it couldn’t have been anything nice, judging by the cold look he gave.”
“Measly little human.”
“You don’t need to know my name.”
“You’ll be far from your old life from now on.”
I had the same dream; the same person she described was in it. He held the same look, but I could recall everything he said to me.
“You’ll be far from your old life from now on.”
An icy shiver shot down my spine when I could almost feel my throat clench again.
Coincidence! That’s what it is!
When I turned forward, my eyes briefly met Hailee’s before she fixed her gaze on the whiteboard. She looked like she was expecting a reaction from me.
“Are you convinced that vampires are real now?” Kaydence’s bubbly voice returned me to my senses.
I scoffed. “No.”
She pouted when I crossed my arms and continued, “I’m a realist. Stop feeding me false information that’s a product of unchecked fantastical imagination.”
She opened her mouth to protest, but the teacher entered, so she had no choice but to keep quiet.
“Someday, Hazel, I’ll prove you wrong,” she muttered, then added, “Still, stop going outside at night, okay? It’s not the safest idea whether vampires exist or not.”
She knew I had the habit of strolling outside at midnight when I couldn’t sleep. It was very much compelling that the night view of the most familiar places was so different.
“Yeah, don’t worry. I can take care of myself,” I dismissed as I wanted to pay full attention in English class. It was my best and favorite subject, after all.
In my peripheral vision, I saw Kaydence shake her head. Sometimes I wondered why she was so persistent on this topic.
At the end of the day, I drove Kaydence to my house instead of our usual routine that consisted of waiting for the bus for twenty minutes and then walking for another ten.
As I backed out of the school parking lot, though, I caught Hailee’s eyes again. This time, she didn’t look away. Her eyes followed me until I was out of sight.
Either she was envious of my transportation, which I highly doubted, or that challenging glint in her eyes meant something.
That bothered me for a while, but I kept up the conversation I always had with Kaydence that excluded the supernatural. She sang along beautifully to the car radio that had excellent speakers.
“Lots of people from school will be coming,” Kaydence said while she made herself comfortable on the couch. “You may not be popular, but you do have friends, don’t you?”
“More like I have a big house and lots of guest bedrooms.” We both laughed.
“And then there’s me, damn my October birthday! You get to be eighteen...” she counted her fingers, “...seven months before me!”
“You’re such a drama queen.” I laughed at her childish whining. “If it makes you feel better, there will be ice cream and cake, and ice cream cake. Probably piñatas, too.”
“Your uncle’s the best.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m still six years old in his eyes.” Arthur took me to amusement parks every weekend to cheer me up. A smile tugged at my lips at the memory.
The smile faded when I recalled that I was severely depressed due to my parent’s sudden death. It wasn’t easy for a six-year-old to handle that. It took a long time and many therapy sessions before I became who I was now.
She giggled a little. “You and I met around then.”
I smiled again. “That daycare did do wonders.”
“Speaking of childhood friends,” she said teasingly, getting up, “How’s he doing?”
“Haven’t seen him in seven months,” I replied dryly.
Alecx Harris, my childhood friend slash neighbor since I moved in with Arthur, left for college last August. We kept in touch for the most part, but he was always too busy to chat for long. I had a little crush on him since I was thirteen years old.
Who wouldn’t? He was cute, funny, a little smartass at times, but dreamy. We were much too good of friends for me to even attempt to confess, though.
I asked to move out a year ago, and since then I was no longer next-door neighbors with Alecx. I sometimes missed the good old times when we had slumber parties. But when I thought about Alecx romantically, I could barely look him in the eyes. “The last time we talked was over a month ago. I think we’re drifting apart.”
“Then don’t let that happen!”
The front door opened before I could reply. I set down my mug on the counter before rushing over to help Arthur carry all the shopping bags. He must’ve gone all-out for this year’s birthday celebration.
“Still can’t believe you’re eighteen, Hazy,” Arthur reiterated again and again.
“Yes, yes. Time does pass by fast,” I patiently repeated.
A couple of hours later, the party was just in full-swing, and I was pretty sure I heard glass break somewhere. This was going to be a bitch to clean up, especially with all the food crumbs and icing on the ground. I didn’t even know half the people here since Kaydence invited guests in my stead.
I closed the door behind me in my room, blocking the commotion downstairs. I let out a small sigh. I couldn’t even find my school friends in this crowd of people. I ended up just having loads of cake.
I plopped onto my bed and stared at the red roses that stood proudly in the white glazed porcelain vase. Its spikes had gotten sharper lately.
Just as I began to think about the mother I didn’t remember, my phone rang in a video call. I quickly sat up and patted down my hair when I saw whose name was on the screen.
“Happy birthday, Hazy!” he yelled as soon as the video call connected, bringing a massive smile to my face.
“Alecx! Thanks.” Just by hearing his voice and seeing his face made this night brighten up.
“Knowing Mr. Carrington, he must’ve bought you a crapload of stuff, right?” he asked, and I giggled a little as I nodded. “Well, that’s alright! I also got you a crapload of stuff!”
I gasped when he pulled the camera further from his face, showing that he was at the airport and had three large luggages around him. Two of them were likely filled with stuff for me. A sweet feeling tingled in my chest when I saw his grinning face, obviously waiting for me to be impressed.
“You’re the best,” I said, satisfying him.
“Yo!” a deeper voice called out. Alecx’s older brother’s face appeared on the side of the screen, looking even more muscular and tanned than I remember. “Happy birthday, so you’re finally legal, huh?”
He took pure entertainment in teasing me, and sometimes it was mortifying, but I knew he just loved me like the little sister he never had.
“Thanks, Jaxson, I think. Are you guys at the airport?”
“Yup! I wanted to come home today to surprise you, but our flight got delayed because the weather wanted you to hate me, so I have to make do with this.” Alecx rolled his eyes dramatically. “Miss ya. See you tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll be waiting.” I mirrored his grin before we ended the call. I pressed my phone against my chest and felt deliriously happy. Short and sweet; that was just like Alecx.
Feeling refreshed, I exited my room and went downstairs. Everyone cheered when someone pointed out that I showed up.
“Is everybody having fun?” I yelled over the music just to be a typical host. It was honestly a rhetorical question, and I was glad people got that.
“Yeah!” they hollered.
“Now who wants to beat piñatas in my backyard with the worst teachers in school’s faces printed on them?”
My excitement was contagious, and nearly half of the house followed me to the backyard while picking up any stick they could use to hit.
The rest of the night went on, and by the time only Kaydence and I remained in the house, it was nearly two in the morning. I scanned the floor. Cleaning up was tomorrow’s problem.
Kaydence crashed onto the sofa, so I draped a blanket over her. I stretched my arms while I climbed the stairs and washed up before snuggling into bed.
Almost like a cue, as soon as I pulled up the covers, my eyes snapped open, losing all signs of sleep. I would’ve shouted in frustration had I not been worried about waking Kaydence. My insomnia got worse over the past month. I forcibly shut my eyelids and waited. Sleep should take over eventually.