“Even as tragedy continued to strike, I never forgot who I was. I hope you won’t ever give up on yourself, either.”
~ Ashlynne Nolan
I stood face-to-face with Zach in the dimly-lit park.
I found him by his faint scent. He leaned against a tree. The red rings around his pupils blazed brightly, fixated on me. To match the atmosphere, my irises swirled crimson.
Even as I slowly approached him, he didn’t move an inch, apparently waiting for me to speak.
“I just want to know one thing,” I said. “Exactly why did you start avoiding me?”
Zach exhaled. “Was I not clear enough the other day?”
Yeah, but you were lying. And I only know that because I lived the same day three times. Those days don’t exist now, so you’ll never have any idea what you would’ve done.
I recalled the soul-crushing day that Zach made it crystal clear that he wanted me out of his life, but that clearly meant nothing.
“You never mentioned why you began acting the way you do,” I slowly started, then re-established eye contact. “You only made excuses on how I read too much into your actions.”
“How stubborn can one person get? Why do you insist that I lied?”
“Because that’s all you do.”
Zach balled a loose fist, but quickly caught himself and stuffed that hand into his pocket.
I wish I knew what he was thinking. Even for just a moment. I hung my head in exasperation and unknowingly produced a request.
Tragic is all it will be. Nothing more.
Before I could open my mouth, I made the mistake of glancing into his eyes––his eyes that possessed the ability to capture every single one of its victims.
“If you want me to repeat everything I said that day, fine. I’m telling you that you mistook a lot of my actions as caring when you were merely a chore to me, some annoying work to get done. You were getting too attached, so I decided to leave, understand?”
After another minute of menacing stares, Zach gave me back my freedom. Half of me thought that I was acting pathetically desperate, but the other half couldn’t let go just yet.
“What would you do if a rain shower of anti-vampire arrows shot down at me?” I asked, though I already knew what his answer would be.
“I wouldn’t care less if you became a honeycomb from dense arrows,” he replied without hesitation.
Lies. Lies. Lies.
I had nothing to say. My only reason for this conversation was two days that ceased to exist the moment I made my wishes.
“Quit giving yourself illusions. This is who I am. I’ve always been like this. I like being on my own, and you’re not going to change anything. You’re only going to hurt yourself more if you try to hang around.”
My eyes stung, and I hated how weak I was. I forced myself to raise my head and look him in the eyes again.
“I know you want to live an unencumbered life. I was a terrible burden; I get that I was extra weight for you. I’m sorry that I ever thought that hanging out with me was anything more than a chore for you.”
Anyone could say words. They were only sounds coming out of a mouth. I got the reaction that I wanted. Zach’s wince was conspicuous.
For a while, encompassing silence dawned on us.
“See? I can say words that I don’t mean, too.”
“I hate your mind games.” He rolled his eyes in an almost playful manner before snapping back to glower. “I don’t care how you analyze the shit out of everything. I meant every word I said. Leave, or I’ll make you feel sorry you ever came here. Or ever crossed paths with me.”
I countered unhesitatingly, “I will never regret meeting you. Sure, I might regret actions and words spoken here and there, but even if you hated it, I enjoyed lots of the moments we spent together, like when you slammed the mouse onto the computer screen, and when you threw me off a building. That sounds pretty weird, but that was a change that you brought to me, and I wouldn’t ever forget or regret the exhilarating feeling of enjoying life and seeing the world in a whole new perspective.
“You made me feel things I didn’t think existed in this world. I only then knew the difference between crushing and loving. And if you could be even fifty percent more honest than you are, none of these problems would even exist. I can’t just watch you walk right out of my life like this.”
And there was only one reason—one hopeless reason—why I believed that he wasn’t telling me any truths.
I realized that hot tears had shamefully leaked and slipped down my cheeks. I quickly ceased rambling and wiped them away. I couldn’t even pay attention to Zach’s reaction as I said all that.
My arms fell to my sides, and I said one last time, “If it’s what you really want, I’ll stop bothering you. But before that, may I ask for one truth? Just one. That’s all I need.”
Over the past two months, Zach had slowly but surely grew in my heart. I subconsciously denied my accelerated heartbeats every time he spoke. However, fate didn’t let me tuck away those feelings so comfortably.
The kiss was the key. It effortlessly unleashed all of the sentiments that I rejected and buried in the corner of my mind.
Zach paused. I scrutinized his expression. The subtle changes in his features didn’t give me any clues on his thoughts. My tangled emotions messed with my logical thinking. I forgot about vampires, humans, supernatural abilities, time, and everything else.
All that existed were his next words, which utterly destroyed me.
“I’m a vampire. I kill. That’s the only truth there is.”
In an instant, Zach left the park without a single glance back.
There you go. I wanted so badly to have a proper conversation, didn’t I? This result was evident from the start.
So, why am I crying?
Why does it feel like a thousand needles inside?
Why can’t I move?
I wasn’t aware of how long I stood there, motionless.
A guy who doesn’t even care about you isn’t worth crying over, I told myself over and over again. Regardless, tears rolled down my cheeks non-stop. My breathing became uneven ages ago, but I held back ugly sobs.
I wish I could go somewhere else, I commanded, but nothing happened. First, it was too ambiguous. Second, I was very emotional.
I had zero brain cells functioning.
I wish I’d get out of here! The more it didn’t work, the more I got infuriated with the fact that I didn’t have control over anything in my life.
I poured my heart out, but all I got in response was an indifferent silhouette moving farther and farther away from me.
Whoever said “words can’t hurt me” had obviously never experienced this. I didn’t give a damn about what other insignificant people said. I was barely affected by Celia and Laurie’s little outburst.
But words like this from someone you cared about? Hell. Absolute hell was the only word reiterating itself in my dysfunctional brain.
A sharp pain stabbed through my head, and my hands flew up to hold either side of my temples. I stumbled backward. Streetlights around me began to flicker vigorously.
Or am I just imagining it?
Give it up. Zach had made it more than crystal clear that he didn’t care.
Why did he save me? Who cares? It didn’t happen.
I shouldn’t linger on this matter for any longer. I didn’t expect myself to move on within two days, but I eventually would.
I will quit loving him as if quitting a drug. Even if I’d be tearing myself to pieces, I promise I won’t cry over him ever again.
But before that, my arms fell limp. I allowed the tears to overflow and mix with the rainwater that came pouring down, seconds after the lights flickered.
My frills soon became soaked and drooped over my eyes. The crashing of the dense droplets of water filled my ears. I felt colder and colder, yet strangely serene as if the rain slowly melted my thoughts away.
But no matter how much the rain lashed at me, the fire and storm inside wouldn’t abate. Perhaps this called for curling up on a bed, going on movie marathons, and eating tubs of ice cream.
I supposed that I’d never find out why it was so difficult for him to be honest with me.
Tragic is all it will be.
He didn’t intend to protect me by hurting me, did he? He wasn’t that dumb, right? There must be another reason.
I wish I knew what he was thinking. Surprise, surprise. My brain wasn’t coherent enough.
You know what? I don’t care what he’s thinking.
Just as my tears began to dry up, I recalled the look in Zach’s eyes when he told me to live, when he chose to hold off Grant’s spiraled-out-of-control power while forcing me to escape to safety. The way he caressed my hair and told me I’d be okay. The feeling of when he held me so close that I couldn’t breathe.
The way his lips were on mine. It lasted way too long to be claimed as an accident.
Who was I kidding? It might take an eternity itself to get over everything about him.
Kissing Zach was fireworks. Not some average party popper or streamers. Fantastic fireworks that burst in the sky brighter than the moon.
I lost myself in trails of reminiscence. I paid such scant attention to my surroundings. All I could focus on were flashbacks after flashbacks of times that I foolishly believed we mutually enjoyed.
My sense of smell had never been particularly sharp. Oh, how that small, unnoticeable weakness cost me so.
I was distraught.
A silhouette emerged from the shadows and rain. The figure wore a black raincoat. As whoever it was inched closer, I didn’t move. Eventually, a hand lifted the hood off. Two other larger people held umbrellas over this person’s head.
I brushed my drenched hair out of my face. Hazel eyes met light gray. The pair of light grays that used to glitter so much in joy and faith were now soulless and dull.
We stood far apart, but close enough that I could see her face and she could see mine.
Kaydence was the last person I wanted to see.
She must’ve just arrived. Otherwise, I would’ve noticed her, and Zach would’ve sensed other presences around us.
“Hazel,” Kaydence called out, but she didn’t speak any further.
“Kaydence,” I mumbled in return.
Why is she keeping my attention on her for so long but not doing anything? I wondered dumbly. Realization then hit me like a truck.
At the same time as I noticed it, chains shot out from beside and behind me. Before I could even react, sturdy silver chains cuffed my wrists, ankles, and neck. I shrieked. The material scorched my skin like a thousand-degree knife.
The chains retracted speedily and pulled my wrists up to opposite sides. I flicked my weak wrists up and grabbed the chains. I still had enough strength to pull them together and spin them around. I’d broken through anti-vampire handcuffs before!
But the chains around my ankles jerked back, forcing my hands to let go and dig into the ground to support my weight. The cuff around my neck choked me ruthlessly. I crashed on my knees.
I glanced left and right. I realized that massive machines operated these chains. No wonder they were so sturdy. I couldn’t struggle. My cardigan fell off my shoulders and grazed the mud-covered ground.
The shackles around my wrists yanked back again, and I was putty in the position of outstretched arms while kneeling in the midst of a rainstorm.
I panted. I hadn’t even the strength to stand up. I suddenly figured that someone must’ve thrown the gas that weakened a vampire’s senses. The fog that rose from the rain perfectly camouflaged that gas.
Did they have to be so extravagant and use it to capture one vampire?
When the bind around my neck withdrew and forced me to raise my head, Kaydence stood right in front of me. She held a look of disgust in her eyes. I scoffed at her.
“Your expression is pissing me off, Kaydence,” I muttered.
She ignored me and slipped a photograph out of her pocket and dropped it in front of me. The piece of paper danced through the unpeaceful air before landing, giving me a perfect view of it.
Alecx sat in a window seat in a café, smiling at an empty chair across from him. Coffee and food for two were set on the table. It only took one glance for me to remember that it was the time Alecx invited me out to eat, and I saw Kaydence speaking with Grant.
She bent down and snatched my phone, which fell on the ground during my struggles.
“Take her away,” Kaydence commanded before turning around and putting her rain hood back on.
She wasn’t Kaydence, my best friend.
She was Kaydence Samuels, gifted vampire hunter.
I wasn’t Hazel, her best friend.
I was Hazel Dawson, wanted vampire.
The longer I inhaled the poisonous gas, the dizzier and weaker I got. Other hunters that I didn’t recognize cautiously cornered me. The chains on my wrists loosened for a second, enough for them to connect the shackle cuffs. My wrists were then bound behind me.
As the hunters worked on my ankles, I watched Kaydence interact with her beloved mentor, Henrietta. Hearing them speak from this distance, even with the hurling rain, wasn’t difficult.
“Great work, though don’t you think it’s a bit wasteful to use all this for one vampire that isn’t even a Pureblood?”
“I just wanted to be careful,” Kaydence replied. “Hazel tends to do surprising things.”
“Get up,” someone ordered and pointed the tip of a sword at me. Some five vampire hunters were armed and ready to fight if I so much as took an extra step out of line. Given that none of my vampire advantages were useful at the moment, it wouldn’t be wise to struggle.
The cuffs and chains came with me to the cage that was prepared at the end of the park’s open area. The hunters halted me right in front of the cage. The weapon tips never strayed far as they detached the chains from the hand and ankle cuffs. A man nodded toward the cage.
Just then, a pressure on my back forcefully shoved me into the cage. I thumped against the prickly bars and cut my arm. I grimaced but didn’t make a sound.
“There’s no need to be such a gentleman to a vampire,” Henrietta stated, her voice booming. I didn’t get a good look at her weapon before it shaped back into a key, and she tucked it into her coat.
“Yes, Chief King,” the others responded with respect and proceeded to roll my cage out of the park and into the empty trunk of a truck. The doors loudly slammed closed behind me.
I didn’t mind the darkness. As the hunters made their way to the driver’s seat, I heard them mumble, “Never encountered a vampire that weak in my life. Ms. Samuels really overreacted this time.”
I carefully calculated as the truck engine roared to life and began to move. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to mislead them into thinking I was weak and couldn’t fight back.
After some time, I could feel the effects of the gas fading. I closed my eyes and wished that I could sleep for three hours.
I woke up after exactly a hundred and eighty minutes. My surroundings were a bit noisy, and I laid on a cold concrete surface. There was no light in the cell room, and a mellow gleam dimly lit the hall.
Snarling and growling noises resonated from all around me. I was alone in my cell, but the other ones contained aggressive vampires. The entire area reeked.
“You’re awake.” Arthur’s voice was as soothing and mild as always.
I almost cried when the awareness of my predicament fully sank in. I squeezed my eyes for a moment before tilting my head sideways to face him. I looked at him past the spiky silver bars.
“Hazy, tell me, who turned you?” Alecx emerged from the shadows and nearly gripped the bars before Arthur stopped him. Alecx’s anger didn’t subside. “Was it Dracul?”
I shook my head softly. Worry burned in both of their eyes.
Alecx brought up the one thing that I didn’t want to think about. Now that I was calm, I could think. Perhaps Zach was right in saying that I assumed none of his words were honest.
Then which of them were truths and which were lies?
“Are you mad at Kaydence?” I turned back to Alecx when he said that. “If you are, please don’t be. She’s only doing her job.”
I slowly sat up and ran my hands through my hair. The more Alecx brought up the people who hurt me the most, the more the excruciating agony and fury inside wouldn’t disperse.
The worst part was, I trusted them with all of my heart.
“Talk to me, please, Hazel.” Alecx walked to the side closer to me as I shuffled to a wall to lean against. Even with his concerned words, I could pick up the slight doubt and fear laced in his tone.
When I wouldn’t respond, Arthur spoke up, “I spent the past two hours convincing the committee to let you live. I had to expose your origins to further my argument.”
I hugged my knees up to my chest and rested my head on my kneecaps. My hair fell around my legs. I quietly asked, “Was anyone particularly surprised about my origins?”
Arthur’s full idea of my origin was my father. He didn’t know that my mother was a vampire.
Arthur paused. “Not really. Everybody was pretty shocked.”
Whoever murdered my parents didn’t know I existed. Otherwise, I doubted that person would’ve let me live for so long.
Arthur gulped. “Of course, simply being Devyn’s daughter doesn’t change everything. I only brought up your origin to persuade them that with a strong vampire hunter ancestry and powers of a vampire, you’d be able to take down Dracul.”
I raised my head in disbelief. He expected me to defeat Zach while no one could catch him after all these years? While Arthur had lost to him twice in direct combat? The last time I checked, I was barely fast enough to keep up with Zach.
Thinking about that made me recall the time he brought me to the top of a building tower.
I snapped my head back forward, and I stared at the wall across from me.
“All you have to do is agree to train toward that goal. We can start today. You can be like Grant. Don’t you hate that vampirism stole your life away from you?” Alecx added to my jumbled mess of a mind.
I should’ve been dead the moment I didn’t detect danger in the park, yet the people who cared about me fought to give me another chance. But on the condition that I’d have to betray The Ones.
What was I supposed to do with a condition like that?
“I know you were friends back in the days, but,” Alecx continued. “It’s different now. Now that we’re aware of Dracul’s identity, do you know how many people he’s brutally killed?”
My love and hate for Zach didn’t mix well with Alecx’s forceful statements. I could feel the sadness rise to frustration and even irritation. I tuned out Alecx’s and Arthur’s voice. Left alone with my thoughts, I began to reach clarity.
Why do I continually tolerate his cruel actions and words?
Eventually, all that was left was the way Zach treated me like trash the past couple of times we interacted.
The days I relived didn’t exist.
The alone times were a chore.
He walked away. He told me not to stay.
He said so himself that the only truth I should cling to was the fact that he killed massive numbers.
I don’t need to keep tormenting myself by holding on.
My oscillating mind finally calmed, but my heart remained breaking. My stomach churned and twisted, urging me to cry again.
I wish I’d stop feeling all this.
Suddenly, the throbbing pain vanished at once, and any sources of tears dried instantly. At last, I couldn’t feel the heartbreak.
But I found that I also couldn’t feel anything else.
I realized my mistake right after. When I said “all this,” I wished away all of my emotions. I didn’t have enough energy to correct it, and I didn’t want to reverse the wish and deal with all the tsunamis of feelings, so I let it be.
From then on, I became an empty shell void of any emotions.
Regret, guilt, and shame were out of my vocabulary. So were joy, happiness, and excitement. But that didn’t matter. Most importantly, I finally got rid of the feelings of love. Once that was gone, Zach’s shadow in all of my memories became nothing but black and white.
I heard a barely audible sigh escape Alecx’s lips. “Alright, if time is what you need, we’ll be back later.”
“Wait,” I called out.
Alecx and Arthur halted in their tracks, turning to me expectantly. I raised from the ground and dusted off my jeans. I walked right up to the bars and looked at them with new-found determination.
And utterly emotionless eyes.
“I’ll do it.”