A FEW DAYS later Amanda and I leave early, before sunrise. Callum stands close to me and I lean into him to hug him goodbye. He folds me into his strong arms and I sink into him. He holds onto me tightly and when Amanda walks past us with a low growl in her throat, he lets me go slowly.
Before Amanda gets into the car, she looks at Callum across the width of the roof of the car and she reminds him sternly, “When I get back, I do not want to hear of any villagers disappearing. Do you understand me, Callum?”
He nods his head affirmatively. Besides Peter, who was turned in his late thirties, Amanda is the eldest in this group of eight in human years. She was human until the age of twenty-six when a man in Romania turned her—violently. Shayne always used to tease her, to her chagrin, that she might have been made into a vampire by the infamous, Count Dracula himself. Amanda does not enjoy talking about it and only Shayne knew the full, dramatic details of that night. Amanda has the natural ability to assume the mothering role though and I always thought she would have made a great mother.
We drive away with Callum standing in front of the stairs leading up to the old mansion. Amanda has given all six of them a long list of things she wants to be fixed, scraped, cleaned and restored by the time we get back.
The sun rises behind us as we drive along the road which would take us to Paris and we reach Paris before lunch.
In Paris, we drive along the roads of an affluent neighbourhood looking for the address of Jean-Michel. He is the vampire selected to distribute the sunshine pill in France. In each country, there is one vampire appointed as a kind of minister of affairs. It is not as if we could walk into a pharmacy and buy it over the counter. I know we will not meet personally with Jean-Michel himself because he will deem himself too important for selling and distribution. He will, however, have several employees, all vampires, who manages the various administrative duties which entail making sure the community of vampires in each country is regulated and governed by prescribed laws and regulations as set down by the High Court.
The High Court, I know, liked to deal out the death penalty personally. They have lived longer than anybody cared to remember. They have always been there and nobody ever knew of a time when they were not in charge in some or other way. This is also not a democracy, we could not vote whom we wanted in the High Court, and nobody dared go against their decisions because death will come swiftly and extremely painfully. The four members, or as they refer to themselves, the Four Judges, enjoyed killing. They lived and ruled from Mont-Saint-Michel, an island off the coast of Normandy; where an imposing abbey was built in the thirteenth century.
Amanda parks the car when she sees the address. The street is lined with trees which form a canopy across the road and the houses lining both sides of the road are colonial. It is an old and wealthy neighbourhood.
She tells me to wait in the car, but I refuse and together we walk back to the beautiful old house.
She rings the doorbell and almost immediately, the heavy door opens.
The door attendant invites us in and I notice the interior of the building looks like normal business premises. It does not look Goth or spooky. The decoration is lavish, with antiques and old rugs. Alongside the one wall, there is a big blackboard and in elaborate cursive, each department is listed alphabetically.
Amanda searches the list for the department we want to go to and then I follow her deeper into the building. This is the first time I have ever gone with her to get the medication and I am astonished everything looks so commonplace. I should have known this because we have integrated so well.
The old house had been turned into a functional office building and the large rooms with their high ceilings housed different departments.
When we get to the right department, the beautiful girl behind the reception desk asks Amanda for her details. Amanda gives her, her name and surname.
The girl smiles and then taps on her keyboard.
She looks up frowning. “You received your year’s supply a little over a month ago. Who would the additional pills be for?”
They regulate the drug carefully because although punishable with death, there are those who deal the pills on the black market. When the sunshine pill is taken by humans, it becomes a drug they get addicted to very quickly. With irritation, I think back to Ethan and I am sure he was one of those who sold it illegally. If Amanda did not kill him, he would have eventually been judged and found guilty without the benefit of a trial, by the Four Judges.
The girl looks at me friendly and Amanda replies awkwardly, “We moved back to France two weeks ago.”
She nods her head in agreement before she glances at her computer screen again. They know our every single move.
Amanda continues, “My mate died fifty-two days ago.”
The girl nods her head again and smiles sympathetically.
I look at Amanda sadly. I did not realise she was counting the actual days since his death.
Amanda continues explaining, “When we arrived at our new home in the historical province of Lorraine, we discovered six men who do not have a clue of what has been happening.”
The girl across the counter frowns.
Amanda hurriedly gives more details, “I decided to come and get them each their own supply and then educate them about life, as it is today.”
The girl smiles friendly, and then while she pushes her chair back, she says in a heavy French accent, “Excuse me, just for a small moment.”
Amanda smiles friendly and I look at her worriedly.
I see the woman talking animatedly with another man, behind a glass window and then they both come walking to us.
The man addresses Amanda, “Madame.” He leans closer to her and I see Amanda lift her hand while he bends down and fleetingly he brushes his lips across her hand.
I feel nostalgic.
The man continues, “In these circumstances, where members outside of the community are discovered, they have to be brought in front of the High Court. You understand this does not often happen and the Four Judges are always extremely interested in meeting them.”
I feel dread fill me, but Amanda smiles accommodatingly, while she says, “Of course. It is totally understandable.”
The man turns to the girl. “Please, Sandra, make an appointment for Madame von Willich with the High Court.”
The girl sits down behind the desk again. She picks up the receiver of the red telephone on her desk and not long after, she is speaking to the person on the other side in hurried French.
When she ends the call, she turns to Amanda and the man. “The Secretary made an appointment for next month.”
Amanda says, “Thank you kindly.”
The man once again leans forward and brushes his lips across her hand, while he smiles friendly in my direction.
He turns to the girl again. “Please, Sandra, make the necessary arrangements.”
He walks back to his office and I hear Amanda and the girl discussing the details.
We leave the office, walking through the hushed atmosphere and over the soft, deep carpets. We walk out into the sunshine and it feels as if a heavy load drops from my shoulders. A feeling of dread fills me quickly because I have never before had to appear before the High Court, and I do not personally know of anybody who has.
We get back into the car silently and then we drive away from the sunset on our way home. We get home shortly after nightfall and there is a new moon in the sky. Amanda has kept our ritual of only hunting when there is no moon in the sky. Although I feel anxiety at the prospect of having to appear before the High Court, I am still weirdly excited to go hunting because tonight Callum will be going with us.
Callum is surprised when he sees us. Herman and Claude greet us excitedly. We have all clicked easily, and it feels nice to be surrounded by so many people. For more than two hundred years it was always only Shayne, Amanda and me.
Amanda waits, as always, for midnight before we are allowed to go. While we wait she explains to them what we have to do so they can get the pills which will help them to eventually live in the light. She explains the High Court to them, and she makes it clear they understand the etiquette required when you attend the Court.
We leave at midnight. Herman convinces Amanda not to take her car, and we should rather run. I feel exhilarated. It will be like in the olden days without the convenience of cars and it has been so long since we just ran and let the world rush past us in a haze. It has been too long since I have hardly felt the ground under my feet as I ran.
We start running slowly, but soon it turns into a competition. We reach the northern coast of France quickly and then just outside of Calais, we nourish ourselves.
There seems to be a deep bond between Callum and his five friends. They laugh and joke, always including Amanda and me. Amanda walks separately from us though and I can feel sadness radiate from her. This is only the third time we have gone out to hunt without Shayne.
When we get home just before dawn, I am exhausted, but satiated.
When Callum says goodnight, he smiles and his eyes hold mine captive for a moment.