“All of a sudden, my fear vanished like it had never existed.”
~ Hazel Dawson
It was when I arrived home that I recalled Sophi telling me about the present she got me. No wonder she was looking at me with expectant eyes today.
I went over to the living room and pulled out the small drawer on the left. In the midst of the most random things sat a cute little box wrapped in pink and purple hearts and a red bow. Sometimes Sophi’s tastes resembled those of a seven-year-old.
I plucked the stick-on bow off and ripped apart the gift wrap, revealing a shiny blue metal box. I opened the lid and found pieces of chocolate cookies placed on top of each other. I smiled a little, Sophi must’ve made these herself.
I picked up one of the soft cookies and dug my teeth into it, savoring the delicious cinnamon taste. As I chewed, my front door opened. Alecx walked straight inside like he owned the place.
“How’d you get the key, you creep?” I jokingly asked as I set the cookies down on my coffee table and stood up.
“Mr. Carrington gave it to me. He wanted me to deliver these,” he explained, then lifted a plastic bag up onto the island table. I recognized it as groceries right away.
“Thanks. You were with Arthur?” I questioned as I sorted the fruits and vegetables out.
“Yeah,” he replied curtly. I raised an eyebrow. Arthur probably drove him and Jaxson to their basketball club. He used to do that a lot when their parents were out for work, but Alecx always told me that or at least informed me of their practice games.
Alecx was a terrible liar, so he usually avoided questions that led him to lie. If he didn’t want to talk about it, I suppose I’d just pretend I didn’t notice.
“How’s college going for you?”
“Not bad,” he answered with a slightly strained smile. “Though it’s more tiring than I expected.”
“I’d imagine so. I got a huge history project today that’s due on Monday.” I nodded, leaving out the small detail that it was due the Monday two weeks after.
“Oh really? I have two essays and three assignments to work on. I’m also probably going to write a report tomorrow.”
“Did I mention I also had to write a modernized script for the first Act of Hamlet? You know how long that Act is?” I looked him in the eye with the best poker face I could muster.
“But my science project is due a day after I go back, and I know how much you fear chemistry and biology. Plus, I have to do it all by myself.” Alecx added with an exaggerated frown that only made him look goofy.
We both laughed out loud. It was fun to argue about who was more miserable because of school work. But I had to admit; I hated the sciences from the depths of my soul.
“You unbox anything, yet?” He helped me put the eggs in the fridge while glancing at the untouched pile. “Apparently not.”
“You expect me to start on that mountain when I just got home ten minutes ago?” I went over to it, then picked up a rectangular box on the very top that was bundled in festive colors. I tore the wrapping paper apart to find a jar of hazelnuts.
I deadpanned and remarked, “Hilarious, Alecx. How could I ever get over such an original joke?”
“That’s not from me!” he quickly claimed to retrieve his innocence. “It’s from my partner when I told him about you and your nicknames.”
I felt giddy when he said he talked about me with his partner. Wait, partner?
“What partner?” I questioned. He became visibly flustered like the lousy liar he was.
“My lab partner, that I’m doing the science project with. We became friends since we need to work on it together.”
I paused, then asked again, “Didn’t you just say you were working on your project by yourself?”
“Did I, did I say that? I mean, well, I guess I wanted to impress you,” he stammered to explain.
I chuckled a little. “You don’t need to do that. I already know how impressive you are.”
He was silent as I ripped another gift open.
“Alecx?” When I turned around, he just walked up to me and helped me open the box. He shook his head. “Nothing.”
Soon enough, I made a mess on the ground with all the ragged pieces of wrapping paper and bows. Not only were there gifts from Alecx, Jaxson, and Arthur, but also from people I’d never met before.
“Boy, you’re brutal. You’re the first girl I know who just tears through the wrapping,” Alecx commented as he kicked some ripped red paper away from his foot.
“What do you mean? How else do you do it?” I stopped from digging my nails into the next present. He grabbed a random box and started lifting the tape carefully, then unfolded the wrapping paper just how the wrapper folded it.
“Get it?” He showed me the neatly unfolded wrapping paper that probably could be reused and didn’t make a mess on the ground. I stared at him dead in the eyes as I ripped the wrapper on another box in long, ragged strips, then flicked it onto the floor for extra extraness.
He tried to appear annoyed, but I could see the humor in his eyes as he chuckled in defeat and shook his head. When he did, I saw something dangle around his neck that was previously tucked inside his shirt.
“Have you always had that?” I gestured to the cross pendant that he wore. I knew he’d never wear any necklaces; not even chains or chokers. It irritated him.
He seemed startled when I mentioned it and put a hand on the pendant that was the size of a thumb. He fumbled with it for a couple of seconds, then said lamely, “Religious reasons.”
“Aren’t you like, borderline atheist?” I persisted.
“Sometimes I hate that you know everything about me,” he murmured, then tucked the pendant back into his shirt. “If I tell you the real reason for this, promise you won’t say a word about it to anyone, and I mean anyone else.”
“Cross my heart and hope to die,” I said and did the sequence of promising we had done since childhood. Both of us knew we could trust our secrets with each other.
Alecx surveyed my eyes once more before he said one word, “Vampires.”
I instinctively frowned at the word. I heard it way too often lately, and remembering the events that happened yesterday made me uncomfortable. Luckily, Alecx took that as my rejecting nature to all things supernatural.
He carried on, “This is a standard weapon. It can be spun into a silver sword. Pure silver constructed with pure blood is the only material that can harm a vampire, even a small cut from it could burn them.”
That was all news to me. Not even Kaydence ever mentioned vampires being afraid of silver. She did once say garlic was scorching to them. Wasn’t pure silver a weak weapon to use since it was easily bendable and breakable, though?
“Weapons are formed in the blood of a Pureblood vampire, that’s how they’re more durable and lethal. Normal pure silver can only do so much damage on its own,” he answered my question before I could ask it out loud. “And only pure blood, others won’t do.”
“Vampires have ranks?” I sought. When Hailee told me she was a Pureblood, I didn’t think that it was a ranking.
Alecx ran his hand through his hair hesitantly, then said, “You can find that kind of information online. I’m not supposed to tell you all this. Don’t tell anyone else, okay?”
I gave him a thumbs-up.
He warned once more, “Not even Kaydence or Mr. Carrington.”
“Got it.” I nodded to reassure him. Then it occurred to me; how the hell did he know all of this information when it was a secret from the mass public? Did someone tell him, too?
“Wait, Alecx?” I called out, but he didn’t pause from putting on his jacket.
“I’ve got to go. I’m on break right now,” Alecx said as he stepped into his running shoes.
“Did you get a job or something?” I walked to the front door to see him off while masking the disappointment I felt that he had to leave so soon.
“Yeah, but I’m currently in training online. The actual location is near my campus.” He smiled at me once more before turning the doorknob. “Open all your gifts this afternoon so you can text me later to tell me how much you love them!”
“I will,” I responded accordingly with an amused beam of my own. Alecx closed the door behind him to block the cold air outside.
I didn’t end up asking him about anything, though he reminded me to do something. I was planning on doing hardcore research on vampires. But first, I needed to open these presents. I counted five more boxes and sighed. It felt like Christmas.
By the time I finished checking up on my roses and decided to leave my homework for the weekend, it was six o’clock. I wasn’t that hungry, so I replaced supper with barbecue chips and cold milk. I spun in my spinny chair and turned around to my laptop.
I couldn’t even open the browser before a text tone distracted me. An unknown number showed on the lock screen. I unlocked my phone to check it out.
‘Be ready. 12:00 AM sharp.’
My breath hitched in my throat for a quick second. Was this Hailee? Or the other vampire I saw? How did they get my number? I threw my phone behind my back onto the bed, knowing that it landed on the designated spot when I heard the soft thud of the phone hitting the bed sheets.
Everything felt surreal. The conversation with Hailee still felt like a dream. I had no idea what was in store for me and thought myself utterly stupid for being so submissive and helpless to my situation.
I stood up abruptly and went to lock my windows and door. I set the police on speed dial and moved myself and my laptop into the bed. I hid my phone under the bed sheets if desperate measures needed to be taken.
My finger hovered over the dial button, but I decided against it. If the vampire failed to show up, and I had no evidence, I could get in trouble. Besides, I’d alarm the enemies with anything rash. I didn’t want them to harm Kaydence or Arthur.
I rested my hands on my laptop and began to do research. Strengths and weaknesses were quite evident since I heard about them nearly every day from Kaydence.
“Creatures of the night,” I read out loud. “Vampires don’t need sleep. If they try to, it often ends in a futile attempt, and they’d feel more tired the next morning.”
Huh, sounds kind of like me, I thought passively and continued scrolling.
I scanned line after line and eventually got bored. I didn’t know how much truth the internet held. Humans might not know everything about vampires, or specific information could be inaccessible to the public. Alecx just gave me an example of that a couple of hours ago. It’d be safer if I asked Hailee later.
Thinking of Alecx made me remember. How in the world did he know that much about vampires when he was an ordinary citizen, himself? I knew for a fact that he wasn’t a vampire.
‘Vampires cannot taste anything but different types of blood. They can consume regular human food if they force themselves to; however, they do not have the corresponding taste buds like humans do to tell the flavor of it.’
That was why. I grew up with Alecx. If he didn’t have a sense of taste, he wouldn’t have nearly cried six years ago when he accidentally chomped a mouth full of hot sauce instead of ketchup.
Just then, an article on the recommended page caught my interest.
Chief Vampire Hunter Henrietta King Shares Story of Her Past. It was published more than three years ago. I bookmarked the article, then looked up Henrietta King.
A woman with a feathered paperboy haircut popped up on the screen. Her brown eyes had a fierce glint in them. She had appeared in public many times to deliver speeches.
I always thought vampire hunters were animal control. What the news perceived to be “vampire attacks” were merely animal attacks in forest areas. In fact, I still didn’t quite believe that vampires exist. What if this was all a prank?
I stopped scrolling. Crap, I just realized. What if all this drama was all part of an incredibly well-planned hoax? What if someone was laughing right now, seeing how seriously I was taking this?
At this point, I was willing to accept any conspiracy theory that my panicked mind fabricated.
“How gullible am I?” I mumbled and kicked the covers off of me. I closed my laptop on my bedside table and grabbed my phone. I dialed Alecx’s number while I paced toward my desk, which was beside the windows.
The other end kept ringing; he never picked up. The auto voice message began playing, and I waited for the recorded voice to stop playing.
‘Hey, this is Alecx Harris! Leave a message.’
“Hey, Alecx. Call me back when you’re free. Let’s meet up sometime,” I said in a calm tone even though I internally wondered if I sounded weird. I wasn’t considered a girly girl in so many ways, yet the way I liked Alecx was just like any girl having a crush.
My phone read 9:30 PM as I clicked it shut and dropped it on the desk. Whatever, when the supposed vampire shows up, I’d stay put. No one would go as far as to break into a house. I even had bullet-proof windows. That was how protective Arthur was when he renovated this home.
I turned around to face my windowpane, only to meet a pair of pale blue eyes in the darkness. The pretty blue instantly flashed to the darkest shade of black and crimson the second I made eye contact with them.
Immediately, I took a step forward against my will. And I didn’t mean that my body was reacting while my brain told me it wasn’t a good idea. I literally couldn’t control my body movements.
I recognized those eyes. They belonged to the one I saw bite into that poor girl’s neck; he was the one Kaydence mentioned who gave people nightmares before attacking them; he was the one whom Hailee told me would come tonight.
My heart pounded so fast it could burst out of my throat. I broke out a cold sweat when I reached out slowly to the crank operator on the window. No matter how much I tried to pull back my arm, no fibers in my body would respond.
I couldn’t break eye contact with him as I could finally see his outlines. He stood on the window ledge, patiently waiting for me to open this entrance for him.
As the window opened and I drowned in despair, he leaped in gingerly and broke the mind control. The first thing I did was spin around to face my desk, where I placed my phone, but he was much faster. He already had his hand on it.
I watched with wide eyes as he picked it up and waved it left and right. His other hand was in his pocket, and his shirt was barely containing his toned torso. Why was he even wearing a T-shirt when there was still snow outside?
Before I could speak, he beat me to it. “I finished early and got bored.”
He then tossed me my phone. I almost didn’t catch it.
“Call those dumbasses if you want. I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” He made himself comfortable in my chair and watched me with unwavering ocean blue eyes. “I’m sure Hailee already warned you about the consequences.”
I received a grim reminder then and there that my decisions didn’t only affect me anymore.
I waited a few seconds until I schooled my composure. I then fixed my gaze on my desk instead of his eyes. When I lost control of my body, I stared right into his eyes, that could be why he was able to manipulate me.
Besides, mind control always required eye contact in fiction.
“I guess you’re smarter than I thought,” he remarked when he noticed my actions. He stood up and peered at me. “What’s your name?”
Am I really going to converse with a vampire?
“I’m sorry, did that sound like a question?” His eyes narrowed. “Tell me your name, or I’ll find out for myself.”
“Tell me yours first.” I shifted my gaze back to his eyes even though my legs were shaking; it was the only way I could get across to him that I wasn’t some boneless damsel. I might’ve gone off a rocky start, but I wouldn’t let him get used to disdaining me.
I knew I pushed the right button when he put both hands in his pockets, which was his relaxed posture although his expression remained the same. His body language was rather simple to read despite how he carried himself.
“Zach,” he introduced with an impatient scowl. “You humans call me Dracul.”
“Hazel,” I said in return and subconsciously lifted my hand for a handshake. When I realized that was not a good idea, I shifted the route and combed my fingers through my hair instead.
I am such a smooth potato.
“Hazel,” he repeated. “You’re a little different. I look forward to seeing how entertaining you are.”
“I’m not your...” I began but was interrupted when he flicked my chin while having the same placid face he had this whole time.
“That’s what they all say.”
“Don’t do that, either.” I ignored him and slapped his hand away with a frown, which only made him radiate more smugness than before. He had a strong presence that I was going to pretend I didn’t feel.
As he observed my room, I studied him. He had a languid posture, yet at the same time, it seemed like his guard was up. Perhaps he was the type to act careless but is, in truth, prudent and incisive?
“Stop studying me. You won’t graduate.” Zach spared me a glance, then murmured to himself, “I can’t bring you back now, or they’ll know I slacked off.”
The bag of chips and cup of milk on my desk seemed to catch his interest. I quietly inched closer to him while he grabbed a chip and took a bite. He turned to me and noted, “Tasteless.”
I recalled the info that said vampires couldn’t taste human food. What a shame, they’d never know the taste of chips, cake, ice cream, cheese, pudding, fries, and so much more.
“Keep eating these while you still can.” He stuffed the rest of the chip into his mouth before dropping a sentence that seemed to have a double meaning.
“What do you mean?” I realized right after I asked. “Are you going to turn me into a vampire?”
“You have no idea how many other people want to be in your shoes,” he stated. “And no, we’re not turning you into a vampire.”
My shoulders let loose for a second before he finished his sentence with a small but wicked smile. “You are turning into a vampire as we speak, and no one can stop it.”
You’re making a hell load of sense, Zach, hell load. I scowled at him for giving me such an ambiguous answer. My palms started getting clammy, so I balled them into fists to hide it.
“Are you always going to be this wordless? It’s not entertaining if you don’t voice your retorts.” He towered over me.
That was the last straw. He was irritating me deliberately, and I mentally slapped myself for letting him get to me. Vampire or not, I was done with fidgeting and silently taking in his words.
I stared straight back at him. “I apologize for not chatting on with you like old friends like you don’t pose a threat to my well-being at all. I was not born and raised to this age to serve as some toy for you, and I never will be.”
“Much better,” he graded with the edges of his lips curved up ever so slightly. “You are quite sarcastic, Hazel.”
“Thank you for letting me know, Captain Obvious.”
“Anytime, Lieutenant Sarcasm,” he countered with a comeback straight away, then turned to check the time.
“Why are you so early, anyway?” I asked. It was beginning to feel like I was really conversing with an old friend. If only I didn’t know he was lethal.
“I was sent to collect info on a captured vampire, but gathering information just isn’t my thing, so I slipped away and came here,” he replied with a nonchalant shrug. “In the meantime, we still have to kill an hour.”
Zach’s tone altered as he finished his last sentence. No traces of lightheartedness remained as he peered at me from behind his shoulder and narrowed his eyes.
For the second time since first seeing him, I felt utter intimidation from him as if a prey being wary of a predator.
He bared his teeth. “Mind if I take a quick bite?”