11:54 pm, September the second, 2021, a pizza parlor sat on the corner of Byrd and the boulevard in a beach city on the American East Coast. The few cars on the road paid little attention to the two-story building, recently closed for the night. On the second floor was an apartment with a slightly cracked open sliding glass door.
Inside, a young-looking man was slumped over a paper-strewn desk. His cheek was pressed against what looked like chemical equations, scribbled down in graphite. Whatever he had been working on, it appeared to have taken him a long time to make him crash this way. His large, black t-shirt nearly covered his blue jeans where he sat, and his feet were kept warm by the blue and white striped, fuzzy, socks he wore. The draft coming in from the sliding door had left the room a bit chilly, so why would a sensible individual leave their door open in such cool autumn weather? He was waiting for something to come inside.
Silent as a shadow, a figure alighted to the balcony of the apartment like a feather drifting from the sky. It was late, and they did not want to disturb the occupant within. Landing in a crouch, the figure rose once their long, black coat had flattened against the floor of the balcony. Once at full height, the slender, feminine figure reached into the crack of the door to slide it open. She saw the sleeping man once she walked in, smiling and shaking her head. Closing the door behind her, her combat boots strode across the carpeted floor to the small excuse for a study space. She reached out for the young man’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.
“Ah! That was a large Hawaiian, medium Meat Lover, and two orders of cheese sticks!”
“Calm down, Wes,” the woman shushed him with a light laugh in an airy, English accent. “Shop’s closed. You fell asleep while you were working again. Any progress worth the marks on your cheek?” She released his shoulder once he glanced up at her, showing some sense of being awake. She walked over to a nearby coat rack beside the front door to shed her coat.
“Progress...?” Wes said as his wits returned to him. “Oh... right... The formula...” He rubbed his sapphire eyes as he tried to hold back a yawn. “Yeah... Yeah, I think I found a link between the serum your father made and blood... last night...” The yawn came anyway.
“You did?!” The woman turned about sharply. Rushing around the desk, she leaned down to grab onto the back of his chair in one hand and the edge of the desk with the other. “What did you find?! What is it?!”
“First...” He reached up to gently push her shoulder back from his personal space. “Let’s remember the bubble radius,” Wes groaned as she slunk backward. “Second, the serum seems to be a complex, anemic medication. Your father found a way to help the body absorb iron easier. Once I found that I broke the formula down completely. I can make any amount I want now that I’m not limited to his weird recipe. Cool right?”
“Mary?” Wes gaped back at her as she walked back toward the couch in his tiny living room space. He had thought she would be excited, but it appeared that his news had only upset her. “Mary, what’s wrong?”
“Don’t you see...?” She covered her mouth with both hands as her ruby eyes watered. “Iron... That’s what I lack... I really must be a vampire...” The back of the couch stopped her from going any further. Slumping to the floor, she moved her hands to cover her face as she wept. “But how can that be...?! I can walk about during the day! Vampires can’t do that! I know they can’t!”
“Mary...” Wes sighed, tiredly. He’d forgotten how strongly she felt about vampires. He had never seen one himself, but from what she had told him, she had. Reaching under his desk, two clicking noises sounded before he moved backward. Rounding the desk, a wheelchair was revealed as he approached her. He reached out to touch her shoulder, timidly. He felt badly, trying to empathize with her.
“Hey,” he said in a low voice, “this isn’t the end of the world. Maybe you’re just really anemic. Now that I know the formula, I can study how it works. We’ll find the answers you’re looking for. I promised I would help you. Try to cheer up, okay?”
“Wes...” Mary looked up from her hands. He was smiling back at her. He was such a good friend, putting up with her and her baggage. It was all she could do not to shed new tears of gratitude. “You’re too kind, you know?”
“Not really,” he replied as he leaned back in his chair. “It’s what friends do for each other. On a lighter note, though, I know it’s a day late, but Happy Birthday, Mary Black! Hope you did something for yourself for a change!”
As the young man laughed lightly, Mary felt a smile creep up on her lips. She couldn’t stay depressed when someone was there to cheer her up. She discovered that in the few years she’d known Wesley Mason. Wiping her tears away, she joined him in a good belly laugh. It was just what she needed.
The next day, Mary was washing pots and pans in the kitchen of the pizza parlor. She did this Monday to Friday from three to closing, although she always came in earlier. After two years, she found that she was rather good at scrubbing those dishes back to their shining glory. She took a great deal of pride in her work, considering how little appreciation it brought her way. It was only an hour into her shift, but the fact that it was almost noon on a Friday meant the dishes never seemed to stop coming.
She could hear Mitch Johnson - the assistant manager and head of the kitchen - barking orders behind her as he whipped up pizzas. The kitchen was his domain, and Wes let him have it. He was a master of his trade, and everyone else could only dream of meeting his pace with dough and a sauce ladle. The man made it look so easy, but it only came from his years of experience with real masters. This usually left him slightly moody and impatient with the rest of them, which was the biggest reason why Mary was quite content manning the sinks by herself.
She didn’t mind the solo work a bit. It let her think about things that were on her mind, which she needed today. Yesterday had been her twenty-first birthday, but that wasn’t the only anniversary marked. Eleven years ago, her sister had been kidnapped from their bedroom in the middle of the night. It was a wound that had never truly healed for her, but perhaps it was the bond of a twin that made her heart ache so badly every year that past. Sadly, on the night of her eighteenth birthday, she lost her parents as well. Their small home in Rutland had been attacked by creatures in the night and burned to the ground. Those creatures had been vampires.
“Mary! I need pans!” Mitch yelled, breaking her from her thoughts for a moment.
“Sorry, Mitch!” She yelped, realizing she hadn’t taken the dried pans back to the center counter. Grabbing as many as her hands could in one go, she rushed them over. “How’s seven for you?” She smiled nervously at him.
The man narrowed his eyes at her for a second before sticking out his tongue at her, playfully. He grinned taking the top one from the pile. She sighed with a smile. He wasn’t really angry, not that he ever truly was. He was just passionate about his craft.
Turning around to take the rest, the thoughts of last night surfaced once again in the back of her mind. Wes could call it chronic anemia all he liked, but she knew better. Her father had made her drink that serum since she was an infant. He had called it ‘medicine’, but she never knew what it was for. It had never occurred to her until the night he died that it was a substitute for blood. All the years she had been laughed at in school and town for being a vampire had turned out to be more real than she ever would have believed. Remembering her friend’s encouragement though, she tried not to think about it anymore.
The rest of her shift went by without much incident. Mitch ran a good system in the kitchen, so even when he left for the day, it ran smoothly. Even though they closed at eleven, they always ended up staying later on late-night orders. Tonight, they got to close at half past the hour, and Mary let the remaining employees out the back.
Wes had been manning the register in place of a call-out, so once he finished counting and locking up the funds, he wheeled out to join his roommate up the ramp to their door. He glanced up at the young woman as he locked the door from the outside. She looked a little tired, but he had a feeling it was more mental weariness than physical. Mary Black never got fatigued.
“How was the kitchen today?” Mary glanced down at him from the corner of her eye. He knew very well how it had gone, so why was he asking? “I know. I know, ‘Where did that come from?’ I was a little worried about you today, after last night and all. You’re the only person who can tell me if you’re okay though. You know how to spell assume and all that, right?”
“Yes, I do. Mitch taught me that my first week in the kitchen, remember?” She replied with a small smile, “I was a bit distracted early on, but the captain set me back on course. He’s good at that sort of thing. You both are. I couldn’t ask for better friends than the two of you.”
“That’s Mitch for you. He takes care of his own. You should tell him how much you appreciate him. It might make him blush.” He laughed as he unlocked the door to the apartment, but the humor in the comment went over his roommate’s head. “Guess you’ll be off tonight then, huh?”
“As per our arrangement.”
“Well, don’t have too much fun without me this weekend. Let me grab you some serum. Just think, now that I can make more, you don’t have to conserve as much when you go out. You always look drained when you come back Monday morning.”
“Thanks again, mate, for everything,” Mary said, walking back to the bathroom to change. “Leave the bottle on the counter and get to bed, mister.”
“Alright,” he said with a grin. Pulling a recycled, water bottle out of the refrigerator, he set it on the counter in their tiny kitchen. “Take care, kid.”
Mary rolled her eyes from the bathroom where she stripped of her work clothes. She wanted a quick shower as she mulled over the goals she had for this weekend. This was her routine for the past two years. Every weekend, she went back to Europe in search of the answers she craved about her past. That was why she worked the hours she did at the pizza parlor, so she could afford to pay her landlord to make her serum and continue her inquiries.
Why did her parents have to die? Why had her sister been taken? Why had she been left behind? Why was her family targeted by vampires in the first place? Those were only a few of the things she wanted to know. There were far too many questions to allow her to believe they weren’t connected. Since the day she had fled the flames of her home, she had promised herself she would never give up until she found the truth.
Retrieving her darker clothes for her trip from her trunk, she dressed and left the bathroom to find Wes in bed. She could tell he wasn’t asleep. No one slept on their back with a placid face like he had. She smiled as she crept out of the room anyway. She appreciated his efforts, but she wished he wouldn’t treat her like a child just because he was four years older.
After she picked up the serum and put it in her coat, she opened the balcony door. Once her coat cleared the threshold, she closed it behind her, looking skyward at the stars. She jumped upward, soaring high into the night. She had a few hours before she would even see the European coast, so she reflected on her latest information as she flew east.
Following a lead to a vampire club in Luton, she had asked some questions about any activity in Rutland. She claimed to be looking for her bloodline, and the barkeep had referred her to the club owner. Since she had been found attractive, the vixen had agreed to tell her whatever she wanted to know if she got to smell her.
After the strange encounter, Mary had learned nothing about the attack, but she had discovered that the benefactor of the club traveled across the British Isles, Europe, and Northern Asia, dropping a lump sum to multiple factions. The vampire had told her she might find answers from them in Romania. Since it had been so far away, Mary had put off the trip to the weekend.
It was late morning by the time she saw the Carpathians. The landscape rushing beneath her was beautiful. It felt like ages since she had truly admired anything, so she thought she would take the time to fully absorb the scene. Landing beside a river running through the forest surrounding the mountains, she closed her eyes to take a deep breath. The air was so clean with a faint, sweet scent. She had never felt so light in her life. The water rushing by, the birds chirping so cheerfully, the vibrant colors filling her vision, it was like being in a secret sanctuary. If she didn’t know where she was at that moment, she would never have believed she was near Transylvania.
A rustling of brush behind her broke her from her daze. She turned about, raising her guard as she looked for her stalker. To her surprise, she saw a large, Grey Wolf standing outside the trees. Its ice-blue eyes stared back at her, placidly. She gaped. It felt as if it was looking deeper than just her eyes. After a moment of stillness, it nodded its head toward her.
She blinked in surprise. What was this? Slowly, she lowered her guard, but she reminded herself that it was still a wild animal. Although, the clarity of its eyes told her it wasn’t rabid. A second nod from the creature came. Was it beckoning her to draw closer?
Everything within her told her this was not possible. Wild animals feared humans out of instinct, so what was this wolf doing? She dared to take a step towards it, thinking it might scurry away, but it remained where it stood. She took a deep breath before walking closer, very slowly. As her hand came in reach of the silvery fur, the animal finally turned away to walk into the trees a ways. She paused. Now what? It stopped, turning its head to look back at her. A third nod. She sighed. Guess it wanted her to follow.
It didn’t occur to her until she couldn’t hear the river anymore that she hadn’t come all this way to follow wild animals in the woods. She was wasting her time, but her gut told her there was little point in straying now. There was something about the creature’s eyes that compelled her to continue. She couldn’t even call it a hunch. She just felt drawn by the animal’s gaze. Hopefully, she wouldn’t get herself lost.
As she took a swig of her serum, she noticed the wolf had led her to the base of the mountains. Once they reached the side, it turned around and sat, curling its tail about its legs. It panted like a docile dog, patiently waiting for its master. Whatever had it led her here for? She glanced down at it, puzzled, and it looked toward the mountain wall. She hoped it didn’t intend for her to climb it. Sighing heavily, she approached the mountain, running her fingers along the surface.
She froze. What was that she felt beneath her fingertips? Reaching up with her second hand, she brushed the moss and foliage away from the mountainside. When she stepped back to see what she’d found, she gaped at a series of engraved symbols on the mountain. Were those Asian characters? As she ran her fingers across a few of them, a strange warmth came from within the mountain. The wall began to crumble beneath her hand. Before the dirt clouded her vision, a large mass fell on top of her, pinning the young woman to the ground. Coughing from the weight on her body and the dust brushing her nose, she heard the wolf give a long howl as the area suddenly got dimmer.