The next day dawned bright and sunny again, making the thick layer of frost sparkle on the trees and parked cars outside in the street. I had gone to bed early, soon after Nick had left and fallen into a deep sleep until around seven the next morning.
When I woke up, for a moment I wasn’t sure exactly where I was or what was happening. I had forgotten all about the fact that I was human until my stomach gave a loud groan, demanding food again. I also had the uncomfortable sensation of needing to use the bathroom quite urgently.
I stumbled up the stairs to the bathroom, startled for a moment by the bright daylight flooding the ground floor until I remembered what was going on. The daylight was harmless, it couldn’t hurt me anymore. Once I had taken care of business I located some leftover pizza to chew on, coming to the conclusion that I really needed to do some shopping.
“What will you buy?” Lillian asked me. “Do you have any idea about modern food?”
I sighed, “No, not really… but how hard can it be?”
As I stood alone in the supermarket a few streets from my house a couple of hours later, it turned out that it was in fact… hard. I had had a good basic knowledge of cooking over a thousand years ago, but the things they called food now were completely different.
Sure, I had occasionally eaten food over the years when it was necessary for my cover but I had never really paid any attention to what it was or how it was made. I had not had a human sense of taste for a long time, so I had no idea what I liked.
Resolving to go by trial and error I started with things I understood – bread, eggs, fish and some fruit and vegetables.
Even those basic elements were not the same. Everything was pre-packaged and very clean looking. In my previous life, I would have ground the grains myself to make flour, before baking it into a basic loaf. Now there was every kind of shape and texture of bread that could be imagined.
I would have dug the vegetables from the muddy ground and foraged in the forest near our family home for the fruits and nuts that were in season. The season apparently didn’t matter anymore; they had everything side by side. I stayed away from exotic looking things that I didn’t know what to do with.
Getting a bit more adventurous I added some premade sauces and meals to my trolley. Since I knew that I liked pizza I got two. Doubtfully I added some packets of things that claimed to be ready to eat almost instantly.
When I reached the feminine hygiene aisle I had the nasty realisation that I was possibly going to have to deal with having a monthly cycle again. Unless I managed to solve this whole dilemma quickly.
I pushed the implications of this out of my mind and tried to focus on the practical aspects. What did women do these days? I had seen all kind of advertisements for products but not needing them myself I had paid little attention. I was not entirely sure what all the different colours and names signified. In the end, after realising I had been loitering long enough to raise suspicion I grabbed a couple of packets that looked useful and moved on.
All went reasonably well from there until I reached the checkout stage. I chose to use the new self-checkout machine as I figured it wouldn’t notice my complete cluelessness about everything. I was wrong; almost as if it sensed weakness the stupid machine yelled all kinds of complaints about where I put the items and how I placed them in the scanner.
A bored-looking worker came over to help me after I lost my temper and yelled at it. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one having issues so she didn’t pay too much attention to me. As soon as my problem was resolved, the woman hurried away to help a mother with two screaming children.
The fact that I could barely lift my two heavy shopping bags made my mood worsen still. As a vampire, I could have effortlessly picked them up with my little finger. As it was, I hoisted one in each arm and staggered my way back out into the street. I hadn’t thought about this issue at all. I could have driven but the shop was only a short distance from my house. Cursing myself I began making my way home. The stupid bags were digging into the skin of my hands and I was sweating with the effort, despite there still being frost on the ground.
“Scarlett?” Nick's voice took me by surprise and I looked up.
I saw that he had stopped a few meters away from me. Quickly assessing the situation he moved to take one of my bags. Normally my pride wouldn’t have allowed it but, I had reached the end of my tether. “
Thanks.” I huffed, heaving the bag at him.
He took it and it annoyed me to see that he didn’t seem to be particularly struggling with it.
“Why didn’t you drive to the shop? Or bring someone with you?” He asked, bemused.
I scowled. “I didn’t think. I am not used to things being so… heavy,” something occurred to me, “Why are you here?” I asked.
“I got to your house a bit early.” He explained, “Amir said that you had gone out. I guessed that you might have gone this way.”
“Huh,” I said intelligently.
“So, get anything good?” He asked, gesturing at the bags.
My frown deepened as I contemplated his answer probably more seriously than he intended. “I don’t know,” I said finally.
He glanced at me, reading my face. “So, I am guessing this time around, being human is a little different?”
“Considering I have not had to slaughter any farm animals or forage for anything in the wilderness… yes, it’s a little different.” I admitted. “Maybe it’s easier, I don’t know. Although I did have a fight with that infernal machine in the shop. Why can’t it see my items?”
This made him laugh. “You’ve never used the self-checkout before?”
“No.” I snorted. “I thought it was supposed to be easier. I didn’t need to spend a whole lot of time in supermarkets before.”
“You do know that you can shop online, right?” He asked when he managed to catch a breath. “They will deliver everything straight to your house.”
At that moment my foot hit a patch of ice and I suddenly lost my footing, landing on my backside with a painful jolt. For an instant I was frozen in shock; I was used to perfect reflexes- I didn’t fall over. Apparently I did now.
I groaned and cursed. “Yes, next time I am definitely not leaving my house.”
He held out a hand and pulled me to my feet, looking unsure whether to laugh or be concerned.
“Are you ok?”
I allowed him to help me up, trying to hold onto what dignity I had left.
“I’m fine. That’s probably going to bruise, right? Stupid human body.” I muttered.
Thankfully we had finally rounded the corner onto my street and my house was in sight. I couldn’t wait for the warmth and relative safety of my cosy sitting room.
Amir and Lillian were there when we arrived. Lillian was no longer visible to others but there was a pad of paper covered in her elegant scrawl on the table between them. As we entered, she ripped off a page and wrote “Hello,” in big letters for Nick and Amir’s benefit. I took it as a good sign that Nick didn’t seem too worried by the floating pen and paper.
“Hi.” He said to them.
Nick followed me into the kitchen where I began unpacking things into previously almost empty cupboards. As he stacked jars and tins onto a shelf he glanced back at me.
“How long do you think this is going to last?” He asked curiously. “The being human thing I mean.”
I took a deep breath. “I don’t know, but I’d rather be prepared for anything that happens. If I turn back tomorrow I’ll give it to charity or something.”
“Did you find out anything after I left yesterday?”
I shook my head, “No, I went straight to bed. I was exhausted.”
He looked back towards the living room where Amir was talking and Lillian was presumably writing. “What about those two?”
“I don’t think so, they would have said if they came up with anything significant.”
Everything finally put away, he leaned back against the counter. I was suddenly reminded that this was the exact spot where he had tried to kill me. I had almost died on the tiles where he now stood casually. Things had changed a lot since then… nonetheless; I surreptitiously made sure that I couldn’t be trapped in any corners.
“Did you think any more about the witch that did this?” His question snapped me out of my reverie.
“No, I would really like to confront her but I don’t think that would be wise yet. I need something up my sleeve first or she could just decide to finish me off. If I am going to find her I need to understand more about this first. I need something I can use against her.”
He looked thoughtful. “It makes sense, she must be powerful.”
I groaned and pushed my hair back from my face in frustration. “I know, I don’t even know where to start.”
“Well, I guess we can keep researching. There has to be something somewhere that can help.”
“Scarlett?” Amir called me.
Giving Nick a wide berth I moved back into the living room, sitting down opposite Lillian and Amir. They had a leather-bound, ancient-looking book open between them. Amir looked excited, causing a small spring of hope to well up in my chest.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Did you find something?” Nick asked, coming to stand behind me.
Lillian was chewing her lip, looking confused. “I am not sure.” She said, before frowning and picking up her pen to write the same words down for the others.
I sighed and held out my hand. “Come here, this will be easier if you can speak to them too.”
She hesitated, “Are you sure? You’ve been doing it a lot lately.”
“I’ll be fine, just take my hand,” I grumbled.
Slowly she took my hand and I frowned in concentration. The familiar pull of my power was harder to find somehow, but once I grasped it I was relieved to find that I could still send the familiar electric energy through my fingertips and into her. It took a little longer than usual but suddenly it was done. The others blinked as she appeared in front of them.
“Never going to get used to that,” Nick mumbled behind me.
I wasn’t listening, when I released her hand I suddenly felt quite light-headed. I realised that I was swaying slightly when I felt Nick grip my shoulder.
“Are you alright?” He asked with concern.
I nodded, shrugging out of his grip. “I’m fine.”
“Do you want a cup of tea?” Amir asked anxiously. This seemed to be his solution for almost everything.
I shook my head, “Not at the moment thank you. I just want to know what you found.”
“Ok, well I don’t know if it really that directly relevant but I thought it might be of some interest. I was thinking about yesterday when you were talking about being turned into a vampire, and how you don’t know if you are the same.”
“Please get to the point,” I said, trying to be patient.
“Well, this book talks about something called the... draugr.” He said, stumbling a little on the unfamiliar word.
“Draugr?” I was confused, “That is Old Norse, I thought that it just meant vampire.”
“Well, that is what I thought too at first,” He admitted, “But I have found it referenced in some other books too, and I noticed that some talk about it separately to vampires. This one in particular-“ He gestured to the old book in front of him. “-has entirely different entries for the two things.”
I frowned at the old book. With a jolt of recognition, I realised that it was the one Nick and I had briefly looked at in his father’s study months ago. If I had opened it to this section instead of the one about the Strix (a vampiric creature often depicted as an owl), would I have realised its potential usefulness? Probably not I thought since I couldn’t even see it now.
“What does it mean?” I asked.
Amir frowned down at the blocks of neat notes on the page in front of him. “Well, it claims that this… creature, the draugr is similar to the vampire… but not quite the same. Sort of like dogs and wolves, I guess.”
I glared at him, “So you’re calling me a Chihuahua?”
Nick let out an unintentional snort of laughter behind me.
Amir was unruffled, “Actually, in this analogy, I think that you would be the wolf. Assuming that there is some truth to these legends, Draugrs or draugar seem to have some advantages over normal vampires. They are not as affected by sunlight, they have the potential to perform magic… although what kind is unclear. Also, they are very difficult to kill. This text claims that the only way to be sure is to decapitate them, burn the body and scatter the ashes in the ocean.”
I raised an eyebrow and glanced at Nick. “Well that’s thorough; you’ll have to try that next time.”
His expression showed shock before becoming chagrined. “Who said that they’ll be a next time?”
I shrugged, “Don’t speak too soon, who knows how you’ll feel when I turn back?” Despite my airy tone, I suddenly realised that this thought did actually bother me. A lot.
Lillian switched into full protectiveness mode. “There will certainly not be a next time!” she snapped, glaring at Nick as if he would suddenly produce an axe and make a swing for my head.
I held up my hands to soothe what promised to become an argument.
“Forget it ok? I want to focus on this draugr thing, it does certainly sound… accurate.”
After one last glare at Nick, Lillian refocused on me. “Yes, well there is some stuff that doesn’t sound right at all… but to be honest it sounds like the usual nonsense that people come up with when they are confused about death.”
“Like what?” I asked.
She grimaced, “Like having a swollen, corpse-like appearance, or being able to drive people insane.”
I nodded slowly, “Those kinds of ideas always spring up whenever anyone goes near the dead.” I agreed.
“Why is that?” Amir asked curiously.
“In the past,” Lillian explained, “People had a much harder time establishing whether or not people were actually… well, dead. We didn’t have science or modern medicine or technology. People mistook corpses to be creatures from their myths and legends.”
“At one time, it was quite common to accidentally bury relatives when they were still alive.” I agreed. “Around the 18th century, people were so afraid of it that they invented safety coffins, just in case. If they were buried alive by mistake there would be a bell or some kind of device to alert people so that they could dig them up again.”
“There is a whole new fear I’ve just developed,” Nick muttered.
I chose to ignore him. “Even before those times when I was young… there were a lot of ideas and practices that would be carried out when someone died, that would now be considered strange. The possibility of a dead relative coming back was not considered impossible. Even in my village, when someone died we had to rotate the coffin before burial to confuse the possible revenant. We had a special narrow door that a corpse could be passed through to confuse it further.”
I frowned; my newly human brain struggled to wrap my mind around something that had happened so long ago in another lifetime. It was a bit like trying to remember a dream.
Lillian sighed, “That and the fact that people were dying from injuries and disease left right and centre meant that people came into contact with dead bodies a lot more than they do now. Since we didn’t have the science to explain all of the… processes that occur, people came up with their own superstitions.”
“Plus, digging up your dead loved one to check that they are still dead is not exactly beneficial to your mental health,” I added.
Amir nodded. “I think overall, there is more evidence for than against. This bit here is what first caught my attention. It mentions that many accounts of people seeing a draugr have spoken about red, glowing eyes and sometimes red hair too.”
My breath caught. I couldn’t deny that I had always wondered about myself when all of the vampires I knew had silver eyes and their original hair colours.
“Nick, do you know where this book came from?” I asked faintly.
He shook his head. “I couldn’t say for certain but it is likely it was passed down from some branch of my family. Sections of it look handwritten so I doubt that there is another one the same.”
It explained why I had not come across this information before. I expected to feel more unsettled to find out that many of my base beliefs were not true, but I think some part of me had always known. I had never been the same as the vampires around me; I had never felt like I fully belonged with them.
“Does it say anything about how one becomes a… draugr?” I asked, afraid to let hope colour my voice.
Lillian reached out and squeezed my hand. “There are some suggestions but nothing concrete. It postulates that the condition is somehow contagious, like normal vampirism but they don’t know how. It also suggests that it could be more like being a ghost… but not.”
“How do you mean?” Nick was staring between me and Lillian in confusion.
“Well…” She hesitated, trying to find a way to explain. “You know how ghosts usually stick around because they have some sort of unfinished business… or I guess they just really don’t want to die. The idea is kind of like that. In order to become a draugr, the person must have such a strong will that when death comes to take them, their hugr- I interpreted that to mean… soul?” She glanced at me for confirmation.
“Yes, it’s like the persons… essence.” I agreed.
“Ok, well then their soul refuses to go with death, so they stay. But instead of being a ghost… for some reason they stay in their body which changes so that they become a draugr.”
“Perhaps the reason is that they have been infected somehow?” I suggested.
“There are accounts of people coming back as a draugr themselves after they have been killed by a draugr.” Amir agreed.
“So, you’re saying that she still has her soul?” Nick demanded.
I felt a spark of irritation. “The existence of my soul was never in any doubt. I think what they are saying is that I am alive due to pure stubbornness.” I growled.
The absurdity of my statement suddenly registered and I burst out laughing. The others looked at me strangely for a moment, before admitting that the concept was kind of funny when phrased in that way.
Once my mirth wore off I was left feeling a little lost. These new revelations were interesting but they didn’t change the fact that I still had no idea what to do about my newly human condition.
I coughed, breathless from my laughing. “Well, this is all very interesting but I need to figure out how to use it to help me. However, first, let’s make some lunch because I am starving.”