“Even a flower as delicate as this has its thorns. That’s what makes roses so beautiful.”
~ Hazel Dawson
I’m annoyed. I am very annoyed.
My stare burned a hole through the ceiling as I’d been glaring at it intensely for the past hour or so. It drove me completely insane that I couldn’t get a wink of sleep for three whole hours.
I sat up abruptly and let out a shaky breath; this wasn’t going to work.
I tip-toed downstairs after I threw on a green hoodie and a pair of light gray sweatpants I found lying on the backrest of my chair. I heated up some milk, then leaned against the counter and drank it in the dark.
My eyes scanned the room in boredom as I did so, and I found, unsurprisingly, that I could see everything. I learned to cope with these small changes in my body. It was rather easy since I was already a night owl.
The bright full moon shone through the living room window, illuminating Kaydence’s fast-asleep face. I gently set my glass into the sink before I reached over to pull the blanket up, preventing it from kissing the floorboard.
I glanced at the front door; it was beckoning me over to take a night stroll like I always did. I then remembered Kaydence’s concerned warning yesterday.
Ultimately, I chose to embrace my love of the night.
I stuffed my hair into the back of my thick hoodie, then tossed the hood on and tightened the drawstrings. I grabbed my keys before heading outside.
I inhaled the refreshing night air and skipped along the sidewalk with an occasional car or two passing by. The night was otherwise dead silent.
I strolled half-way around the block, which was twice as long of a route as I usually took, and turned to a slightly busier street. I had no idea why some people would be driving at 5 AM on a typical Thursday dawn in the midst of March.
I observed my surroundings more than usual as I freely roamed the streets and took a shortcut through a large park. It didn’t matter that there weren’t any streetlights inside since it made no difference for me.
I cranked my neck upward and took the time to appreciate the moon. It always gleamed in our darkest hours when the sun wasn’t around. I glanced back at my shadow that was extra dark because of the extra-bright moon, then continued wandering ahead.
As much as I enjoyed night walks, I’d much prefer better sleep so I wouldn’t feel dead during class the next day.
Just the thought of it tomorrow made me sigh and kick a few pebbles along the path. There was still some snow around, but not that much.
A distant shriek froze me in my tracks, and I strained my ears.
It came from the area near the small stream in the corner of this park where no one usually went. I shouldn’t have even heard that from this distance, but I did.
I stood and stared into that direction for a couple more seconds before I decided that curiosity killed the cat, and I shouldn’t mingle with affairs that didn’t concern me directly.
However, I only took two steps forward when I halted again; I inhaled something, and it made me shiver. It was strange to say it smelled appealing, but it did, like a blend of heavily-scented rose tea.
I breathed in again, and my throat immediately dried. Every alarm set off in my head, and I knew I had to leave, but the smell was so compelling. It was unbearable to go without knowing what it was.
My feet shifted in that direction. I followed the trail of the intoxicating smell and took rapid steps toward it.
“Right around here,” I murmured to myself in a whisper as I pushed a few reeds out of the way and smiled a little when I knew that whatever that delicious scent was, it was right in front of me.
That smile instantly faded as I located the origin.
All color withdrew from my face, and my eyes flew as wide as saucers when I laid eyes upon the sight before me. I blinked hard. Every fiber in my body wanted the view to be chimerical, but as far as I saw, it was very much real.
A girl looking around my age had her back toward me. With her head thrown back lifelessly, she was held up by her shoulders. Blood dripped down her nape from where it was bitten. The moment I saw the red substance, I knew that that was the scent I was attracted to.
The first feeling I had was fear when I realized what was going on and then disgust at myself for not finding the smell of death repulsing.
The gears in my mind turned very slowly as it had never processed situations even remotely close to this one before. I could visibly see the blood drain out of the girl’s body as her skin rapidly creased and wrinkled. It took me several more glances to notice someone else here.
My eyes followed him as he dropped the girl onto the ground, then wiped the corner of his mouth. We held each other’s gazes as he stood up to his full height. His eyes were empty but carried an amused glint. He wasn’t surprised to see me at all as if he had long sensed my presence and was waiting for my appearance.
I couldn’t read him; the only thing I could stare into were his black orbs with red hues around the pupils.
My legs shook, and I was afraid I’d collapse any second if I tried to run. It was when his eyes gradually faded into a pale shade of blue that it finally registered in my utterly stunned mind: a vampire.
“Wasn’t exactly what I had in mind of first meeting you, but I guess I’ll take it.” He spoke in a tone so casual anyone could’ve mistaken him for an average human teenager.
Even the sound of his voice sent me chills; it was distant and cold, yet at the same time deep and steady, almost reliable.
When I could feel my legs again, I whipped around and sprinted the fastest I ever did toward the direction of home. This was it; there was no way I could outrun a vampire, even I knew that much.
I mustered up all the courage within me and glanced over my shoulder.
The boulder in my chest dropped in relief when I noted that he wasn’t chasing after me. My pace slowed down when I got to an open street. I panted and held a hand against my chest. My legs ached from the sudden sprint, and my lungs squeezed painfully. I’d obviously never been the most athletic one.
The faint scent of blood still swam in my nose. It was different from the last time I accidentally bit my lip hard enough to draw blood. The mere thought of that red substance sent a shudder through my nerves.
As I tried my best to walk in a straight line down the sidewalk, someone came down the other way. I moved to the far right to make space for him to pass through. When he staggered past me, I caught a whiff of it; it was bitter and stale. I didn’t smell alcohol, but I somehow figured that this person was an alcoholic and took painkillers regularly to cure hangovers.
I sorted out his entire diet just by a whiff of an unfamiliar scent when he passed by. That was very peculiar, and I had no one to ask. Or rather, I was too afraid to ask.
I unlocked my door as silently as I could and tiptoed inside. The strangely intriguing scent occupied my head while I absent-mindedly kicked off my sneakers.
“Where were you?” Kaydence’s voice scared the heck out of me, but I quickly calmed my racing pulse, hoping she wouldn’t notice. She sat on the sofa with the blanket still on her lap, having just woken up. Her light gray eyes widened when she saw me.
“A walk. I couldn’t sleep, as always. I just walked around the street,” I explained. I technically wasn’t lying. Instinctively, I glanced at myself and checked my clothes, wondering what she was looking at.
“Oh, okay,” she murmured. When we stayed silent for a while, she added, “Hazel, when you’re hiding something, you hold your wrist with your other hand.”
My head immediately ducked; my right hand was indeed holding my left wrist. I had only been conscious of this when she told me. I hurriedly let go and interlocked my fingers behind my back.
“I’m sorry, it was around two blocks,” I admitted. “I promise this will be the last time I take a night stroll.”
She seemed surprised at my easy confession, then masked it with a playful lecturing expression. “Glad you understand. Thanks for letting me crash here. I should go home.”
I was about to offer her to borrow some of my clothes when she beat me to it and waved her hand. “I need to get my instrument from home. See ya in about two hours.”
I glanced at the living room clock, which read 6:00 AM. I debated on trying to get one more hour of sleep, then scratched that thought and went to wash up instead. If I couldn’t sleep in three hours, I doubt I could for one hour and still survive the day.
Perhaps it was a bad idea to hold a party on Wednesday evening.
I went up to my bathroom and splashed some cold water on my face. When I peered up into the mirror, I almost shrieked. Right there, looking at me, weren’t my familiar hazel eyes. Instead, a pair of alarming crimson red orbs stared back at me.
Cold water dripped from my forehead to my chin. I squeezed and rubbed my eyes, but the screaming crimson wouldn’t go away. I studied my newfound eye color in the mirror. The irises were fire-engine red, and my pupils were almost cat-like.
They stung when tears threatened to spill. What the hell was happening to me? I didn’t remember being taught that you had random shivers when you thought about blood and your eyes change color in the middle of the night was part of puberty!
Hold on, did Kaydence see my eyes like this? Was that why she was shocked when she saw me? No, it couldn’t be, it was too dark in the living room to see anything. The moonlight was pretty bright tonight, but I never even went near the window. She probably just thought I seemed shaken up.
I exhaled in exhaustion and calmed myself down. The inevitable memory of the man with blood trickling down the side of his lips floated back into my mind. I couldn’t forget what he said to me.
“Wasn’t exactly what I had in mind of first meeting you, but I guess I’ll take it.”
Right away, I became hyper-aware of my surroundings, and even a shuffle of leaves from outside the window startled me. What did he mean? He knew I was going to see him feeding?
I couldn’t stamp his appearance into my mind since I was basically in sheer panic, but it was hard to forget those enchanting eyes. They were strange, but also beautiful.
I grabbed the nearest towel and pressed it against my face to wipe it dry. How could I think a creature that vile was beautiful? Vampires were blood-sucking killers who couldn’t care less about the number of lives they’d taken.
When I removed the towel and looked into the mirror again, my natural eye color was back. My shoulders relaxed in relief at the sight of the warm shade of hazel.
I walked over to my bedroom windows and rolled one open. Some fresh air was overdue in this room, especially for my roses. At the thought of my precious ones, I knelt in front of the bedside table and ran my fingers along a petal.
I counted the amount of blood red roses in the vase; precisely seven, as always. I arranged the stems as a routine and picked out the leaves. I could almost imagine my mother doing the same thing, except that I couldn’t put a face on that person.
I pushed off of my knees and stood back up straight. I had to call the police or ambulance or anyone. There must be some way to tame these vampires, right? What was Kaydence going on about a couple of weeks back? Vampire hunters?
I went to emergency call, and just as my finger hovered above the first number, I almost threw my phone in fright as something dropped behind me with a thump. I whirled around to find a piece of black cobblestone on the floor right in front of the window. Someone threw this inside.
I hurried over to the open window and peeked at the streets. No one was around. Nothing was moving on the quiet night street.
I hesitantly picked up the brick. There was a note attached to it. Finding my pulse quickening, I unfolded the letter. On a piece of faded yellow paper was an ironically elegant cursive handwriting.
Secrets are meant to be kept; I hope you keep mine.
I could feel the vibe of threat from this lone sentence. I couldn’t bear to stare at it any longer and crumpled it up in my sweaty palm, then tossed it under my desk.
This note must’ve been from that vampire earlier. If he thought I was troublesome enough to deliver a threat note, why did he let me leave? Why didn’t he chase after me?
What have I gotten myself into?
Too many questions arose all at once, and I didn’t have any answers.
He knew where I lived, and he could be acquainted with other vampires. It was far too risky to ignore the threat altogether.
At the very least, I could report this incident, right? Who knows how long it’d take for someone else to discover the body? I gulped when I thought that I could’ve been in that girl’s place. There weren’t any people in the park.
I halted my thoughts. It only felt too real after I’d just witnessed the actual thing. I grabbed my wrist to prevent it from trembling.
After changing into something more school-appropriate, I tossed my backpack into the shotgun seat of my convertible and started the engine. Little ways in the opposite direction of my school and house, I found a public phone booth.
“Did you watch the live news this morning?” Kaydence’s first words reached my ears. However, this time, I knew what she was going to talk about and didn’t dare roll my eyes.
Her voice expressed concern as she started, “An anonymous caller reported seeing a body at Union Park. After forensicists analyzed the crime scene, they confirmed that it was a vampire attack.”
“Oh?” I questioned dismissively as I always did on the topic of vampires so I wouldn’t appear suspicious. I brought out my math textbook from my locker while she spoke.
Kaydence frowned at my nonchalant behavior. “I’m serious this time, Hazel! The death occurred around five in the morning. That’s when you went out for a walk, right? It could’ve been you!”
That warning shook me much more than I ever thought it would. My hand lingered on the metal locker door, then I faced her.
“I get that you’re worried, and it’s for my sake. Thank you.” I found myself at a loss for words, and I struggled to keep looking into her wide eyes. “I promised you, didn’t I? I won’t do it again.”
“Uh...well….” She stuttered at my unusual easy admit of defeat, then exhaled. “I’m sorry for being so anal about this. I just don’t want to lose my bestie to some wild animal out there.”
I wasn’t exaggerating when I felt like I was on the verge of tears. Kaydence had no idea how much impact those words had on me after what I experienced just a few hours ago.
I repeatedly nodded in understanding, and we shared a friendly hug that we hadn’t had in awhile. I wasn’t much of a hugger, but I was a little clingy today, and I was sure she more or less noticed that.
I sat in my seat during math and spun a pen in my hand while we waited for the teacher to arrive. There were still two more minutes until the bell rang for the start of class. At that moment, Sophi set her bag on the desk next to mine and took her seat.
Sophi Cheng, sociable and eccentric. She was the first person I would turn to if Kaydence wasn’t around. We sat together when Kaydence had band or jazz rehearsal during lunch. A good thing about her was that she never brought up the topic of vampires and always fell silent at the mention of it.
“Good morning! Awesome party yesterday night, hm?”
I didn’t even see her since I was too busy up on cloud nine because of Alecx’s call.
“Yeah! Though I’m beginning to think it was a bad idea to have it on a Wednesday night,” I responded honestly. She nodded in agreement, then put one earbud in and sat quietly.
She was so odd that she confused me sometimes, but I did know the one thing that always put her chipper mood into a dump.
“Are you thinking about the vampire attack on the news this morning?” I knew I got it in one when she flinched and gripped her phone tighter. She answered in a small voice, “Yeah. Those things creep me out.”
Tell me about it, I wanted to say but stopped myself at the last minute. I wouldn’t want to admit that those things scare me.
“Stop thinking so much! I doubt they exist, anyway.” I scoffed, but holy crap, even I thought I sounded unconvincing.
Sophi opened her mouth, but the bell beat her to it and made her hesitate. She shuffled her bag under her chair and stuffed her phone in the desk. I suppressed the panic that was growing in my chest and attempted to distract myself with graphs of polynomial functions.