The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 17

I felt nothing, and then I felt everything.

Hollowed of life, or perhaps drained of my blood, I was stiff as Zacharias’ teeth seemed to sink deeper and deeper into my neck until they were scraping against bone. I had never felt anything like this before. The pain was unmeasurable and indecisive. I couldn’t tell if it was agonizing or not. Or maybe I was too shocked to register the pain.

My eyes were wide as my mouth slowly opened, as if preparing to grow fangs and finish my transformation into a new-blood. The rain angrily pounded against the window, doing the very things my hands couldn’t, but ached, to do.

I wanted to scream. A bellow bubbled in my throat and dissipated just as quickly. My fingers clenched, jagged ends of my nails digging into the palm of my hand as I weakly resisted, tensed...tried to pull myself away. If I wasn’t handcuffed to the leg of the bed, I would’ve been fighting with the craziness and fervency of a stray dog.

Although I knew it would’ve been in vain. I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to fight Zacharias off, but putting up a struggle could’ve helped diminish the intensity of what was going on—distracting me from the fact that I was being imprinted, and reminding me I had to fight against it.

But like this, there was no hindrance against him. It was more agonizing to know that I was inept and at his disposal so he could do whatever he desired with me, than it was to have his teeth deep in my neck. My impotency rendered me completely useless, only able to dwell in the moment. It was like letting him take advantage of me for the first time. My soul just abandoned my body.

Before it was thrusted back in, causing my whole body to jolt like I had been spiked with an electric shock. Instantly, as if expecting it, Zacharias released my hair and grabbed the gag that still hung loosely around my neck and shoved it back into my mouth without stopping his imprinting. This time, it wasn’t to silence me; it was to ensure I didn’t grind my teeth right out of my skull.

His hand gently creeped around to the back of my head. Initially, I didn’t know why he didn’t just go back to fisting my hair, but then it became obvious. All at once, the agony—with a fury like never before—kicked in, flooding into my body like an evil spirit. I didn’t even have the chance to brace myself.

Eyes clenched shut, teeth biting down on the cloth, the pain was so severe that it was a benediction Zacharias’ hand was on the back of my head. Desperately, maybe even psychotically, I started banging my head against the bed post, crushing Zacharias’ hand instead of my skull. I wished he’d move his hand so I could hit my head hard enough to knock myself out.

And I bellowed into the cloth like a woman possessed. My feet scraped against the floor as my whole body began to convulse, in so much pain my eyes rolled into the back of my head. It was like red hot needles being poked into every pore of my body, before having lemon juice pored over the burning holes. My throat, the centre of all this, felt like it was being slit open by a dull knife.

Blood, hot and sticky, drenched the shirt I wore. There was so much of it I was nearly certain I would bleed to death before this process was over. Tears pooled behind my closed lids, searing pain swelled above and below my flesh, and I wondered if I was getting my wish and was preparing to die.

Selfishly, callowly, I had hoped my death would be painless—merciful and generous. But this...I doubted a bullet to each of my kneecaps could top this pain that spread like venom through my whole body. I thought at some point I’d fall unconscious from the pain, but I couldn’t be so lucky.

And finally, after what felt like hours that tugged into days, he pulled his teeth from my neck; which attenuated the pain insignificantly. I still felt on the verge of death, only barely grasping onto the straws of my livelihood. My body and visage relaxed, but only because I no longer had the energy to tense myself.

Slowly, he removed his hand from the back of my head, carefully resting it against the bedpost. As soon as we had no contact with each other, though, I slumped forward and my head dropped to my chest as phosphenes danced across my closed lids like billowing ballerinas.

There was nothing that could’ve been said between us—I was too exhausted, and anything Zacharias could’ve said would’ve been erroneous and flawed. I struggled to maintain consciousness, so even if Zacharias would’ve spoken to me it would’ve sounded distant and faraway.

I didn’t know how long it was until I felt him lean over me, his warmth nearly overheating me in addition to the blood that would not stop seeping from my wound. He grabbed my tender wrists, which were left raw from the rope and handcuffs, and unlocked them from the leg. He must’ve scavenged the keys from the officer he killed in nearly the same fashion he marked me with. His methods were redundant.

My hair curtained my face as I, with the last bit of effort I had, cradled my hands to my stomach. I slumped back, limp like a fabric doll, as I prepared to curl into the fetal position on the floor and bleed to death.

Zacharias had other plans, however. He maneuvered my head cautiously, untying the cloth from my mouth before compressing it over my neck. I wasn’t even worried he had messed up this imprint anymore. If anything, I hoped, deep down beneath it all, that he had.

With the cloth still as a compress on my neck, he deftly swept me up into his arms like I was his immortal bride, before he placed me onto the bed—along the width instead of lengthwise. It was peculiar, I found. Strangely peculiar. But he had done stranger things to me thus far.

The way he had laid me would promote blood flow to my head, so I wondered if he was actually trying to kill me. From the chest up, I hung over the side of the bed; pressure gathering within my temples, and my hair grazing the floor. My arms slipped from my chest and fell outstretched beside me, almost as if to prepare me for crucifixion.

The compress fell to the floor, seeming more like a swarm of flies to my blurred eyes. My blinks, the longer I laid there, became slower, and fewer and far between. I didn’t have much lucidity left in me. I was still bleeding—the steady drip of it sounding like a leaky pipe.

Then it hit me. He was trying to knock me out by promoting too much blood flow to my head. I didn’t know if was for his benefit or for my own, but either way his plan was working. I knew I had only seconds left. I was too groggy to recover from this so suddenly. I was going down, and I was going down fast.

But not until I reminisced. I was no longer my own. It was no longer something I could pride myself on. Zacharias...the moment his teeth pierced my skin, we were intertwined; tied together by the moon, who would perhaps smile down at the new member of her family when she made her appearance. There was no reversing what had just taken place. I was bound to become what Zacharias was...what he had made of me.

And as I drifted, I wished it could be undone.

But it could not be undone.

When I awoke I was in a different position than I had been when Zacharias laid me down. I lay turned on my side, my head on the pillow, facing the window with one arm outstretched in front of me, as if holding my hand out for anyone to take it. I felt so warm, but so cold inside—emptied of what I was, and refilled with what he wanted me to be. I was glad I was alone.

I had thought I’d feel weak when I woke up, but when I awoke I felt...sprightly. Alive. Exuberant. I felt better than I had felt in so long. I almost expected to see pearly gates from my peripheral vision, believing that I felt too good to still be living on earth. I had to be journeying to heaven.

I felt hungry. I hadn’t eaten in almost two days, and it was starting to show. I didn’t feel as if my hunger was detrimental, but it was enough to distract me from the blood that I thought drenched my clothing. I felt like I had slept for months, but I doubted it was more than a couple of hours. The sun was hardly setting, and the rain was light. Nature was no longer trying to get in, it was starting to fade out.

I rolled onto my other side, noticing a plate of food on the side table. Consumed by my urge to eat, I quickly sat up and scurried over to it. My fingers trembled as I looked at the plate; two pieces of toast and jam, two sunny-side-up eggs, six strips of bacon, a handful of strawberries, and a tall glass of milk. The plate hadn’t been here long. It was still steaming, and the milk still had perspiration on the outside of the glass.

I chugged down the glass of milk first, not taking the time to savour it or worry about it being drugged as I moved onto the plate of food. Overwhelmed by the selection, I didn’t know what to go with first. I felt like whatever I chose would have an effect on the equilibrium of the earth. I didn’t know why it mattered so much.

I took the plate and set it on my legs, which I crossed for comfort. I hadn’t had toast and jam since I was a kid, so I decided to reach for that first. Taking a piece, I took my first bite, and I nearly melted like a hot stick of butter. I ended up actually dropping the piece of toast, because I was so surprised.

The flavour...

It was...phenomenal, almost too perfect that I suspected it was seasoned by poison just for fun. Again, I was suspicious of something that had been given to me. I waited for a few seconds, expecting to feel woozy, but I felt no different. The food, however, felt different. It was no longer just a meal, it was an experience. My tastebuds enhanced the food beyond anything I’d ever tasted before.

What the fuck was going on?

Feeling wary, I was hesitant to take a second bite. The jam was blueberry, and it stuck to the roof of my mouth. The toast was wholewheat. I could detect seven different grains, and I tasted each one of them individually. I was so confused. Why was I being so observant of the food? I was no critic, and I didn’t have the pallet to decipher what was and wasn’t wrong with a meal.

Finishing the rest of the meal, I wrestled with the same criticisms. The bacon wasn’t crispy to my taste, the eggs were too peppery, the strawberries too ripe and sweet. I had never been so picky, nor so analytical. I wondered if I was simply trying to find the blemishes in the kind acts of Zacharias.

Feeling rejuvenated, I swung my legs over the side of the bed, finally noticing a change in the clothes I wore. I woke up in different clothing than I had fallen asleep in. A baggy black dress shirt—cotton, my bra—nylon, and baggy boxers—flannel. I had been cleaned of the blood, but I hadn’t been showered down. I felt cleaned, but not clean.

Standing up, the hardwood flooring was extremely chilly against my toes. A chill lapsed through my body, and I shuddered. It was like a chill I had never felt before—almost like it was so hot that it felt cold. I had to pull up one sleeve just to check my forearm in order to make sure I was cold. I was doubting my robustness.

I had goosebumps, so it was the start of being a good sign. I pulled the sleeve back, feeling another shudder shake my body. I paced along the side of the bed for a little bit, before getting curious and ambling over to the window. I avoided looking around the bedroom on the way there, however, settling on looking at my toes.

I stood in front of the window, but didn’t crawl onto the bench just yet. I couldn’t bring myself to. I had to observe from a distance at first, as if pressing myself to the window would warrant a mythical beast deadlier than Zacharias to smash through it to finish me off.

Tentatively, eyes downcast, I touched two fingers to my neck to check it as if to make sure it was still there. I felt no lingering pain there, and I was more confused than relieved. Given the trauma that had occurred there, I was certain there would be at least a patch of uneven, mangled skin.

But there was absolutely nothing. It made me think that I had hallucinated the whole thing, but I knew I hadn’t. I vividly remembered what had happened. I couldn’t forget that assault. I couldn’t forget that fear...that rage I felt, and the helplessness that had plagued me. All three feelings, and the intensity I felt them with, were a recipe that would forever simmer in my mind.

Staring up again, the rain had finally stopped, but the clouds had yet to clear. There was a breach in the rainfall, but the sky had yet to fully finish crying. It was still so bleak and so sad, and looking outside cast a heaviness into my chest that I couldn’t rid myself of. I felt stuffy, and ended up rubbing my hand over the ache.

When I looked outside at the greenery, but didn’t focus on it, I felt so bizarre; stirred and joggled vigorously as if natures fingers had tussled me up. My lips, suddenly made dry and parched, parted on their own accord. I swallowed nervously, holding my hands out in front of me, seeing if my thumbs had suddenly turned green.

They were were still pale, and my wrists were no longer raw. My nails had, miraculously, somehow smoothed and were no longer chewed down to what felt like the cuticles. I was worried I had switched bodies for a moment, but recognized the placement of freckles on my hand as my own.

I flipped and checked the palms of my hands, seeing the lines that creased as clearly as ever. Every line, every knuckle crease, every swirl of my fingerprints...were mine, and I had never seen them as clearly as I had before. Things I hadn’t noticed about my DNA ever before, I noticed in that very moment. I felt more adhered to myself than ever.

I let out a strangled breath, laughed, and furrowed my brows. I took a subconscious step away from the window, before stepping back to where I was before. I inspected my hands, my wrists, before rolling the shirts sleeves up to my elbows and checking my forearms. Everything was so much more meticulous and detailed, like I had developed entirely clearer characteristics when I had rested.

Briskly, I stood to my knees on the window bench, resting my hand against the shatterproof glass, taking the time to completely navigate my vision all across the damp landscape. My jaw dropped and my eyes, with vision that absolutely terrified me, widened.

From where I stood, I could make out every single blade of glass that swept as far as I could see. I could count all the pine needles and flat leaves that marked the branches of the trees, I could spot a red speck that moved along the trunk of a tree that was deeper within the forest—a ladybug. I could spot chickadees flying around in the canopies of the deciduous trees. I could see everything.

I got off of the window bench, gasped, and slapped a hand over my mouth. I couldn’t tell if I was completely mortified or entirely transfixed, but I could tell that I was completely flabbergasted. This was so...inconceivable. Admittedly, I was in such a state of disbelief that I slapped my cheek with my free hand, only to feel the pain tenfold more than I would’ve a week ago.

But I was less bothered by it, almost as if more pain was equivalent to less reaction.

I ended up dramatically slapping my other hand over my mouth, crouching down to my knees to gather myself, before standing upright again. I took a couple patterned breaths, unable to bring myself to register what on earth was going on. I had to be going mad.

But I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t crazy. Crawling back onto the window bench, I removed my hands from my mouth, pressing both against the window as I pressed my whole body against it. I saw exactly what I had saw earlier, with the addition of a tiny bird with a yellow belly flying out of one of the tree canopies—further in the forest than the tree with the ladybug. I shouldn’t have been able to see any of this. But yet I couldn’t miss it.

I got off of the window bench and crouched to the floor again, dragging my fingers along the floorboards. I felt every individual speck and granule of dust on my fingertips, but I found it less baffling than being able to make out a ladybug on a tree deep within the forest.

I heard shuffling from downstairs. I had been able to make out the sound of movement on the stairs before, but hearing it occurring from right below me was new. On top of that, I could tune into mumbling—between two voices. Both male. It made me nervous for a moment, until one of them left, the door being closed softly behind him.

Then the remaining mans footsteps started to approach the stairs. I had a general layout of the house planted in my mind, so I just knew they were going to come up the stairs—Zacharias was going to come up the stairs. My skin bristled as I heard his heavy footsteps trek up them, as if every footfall induced a pulsating tick of my nerves.

I waited by the door, uncaring if it was already unlocked. I stood behind it far enough to make sure Zacharias wouldn’t hit me with it as he opened it. But I was anxious to see him—I needed solidification, I needed advice, I needed explanations, I needed him to reassure me that this wasn’t anything abnormal or unexpected.

When he opened the door, he was surprised to see me eagerly standing there, awaiting him without ill intent. I was breathing heavily, clearly disorganized and distraught as I stood head on with him. He didn’t move out from the threshold; as if seeking permission from me in order to do so.

And he was...refined. He had been so perfect before, so strikingly handsome that I doubted anything he could’ve ever done would better that. But with this change in my vision—my interpretation of things—he was improved. Edited, filtered, airbrushed. I stared up at him, completely riveted, engrossed, entranced.

“Oh my—” I began, and nearly choked as I heard my voice like I never had before. I always had a voice that was more on the deeper side, but I had never heard its cadence so strongly. I hardly recognized my own voice. I realized that I now heard my voice like everyone else heard it. I didn’t know if I liked it or not.

I was continuously discovering new things about myself—still trying to get used to the new instalments. It was the craziest, the oddest, the most trickiest thing I had to do yet. There was a difference in trying to uncover methods to help yourself, and trying methods to help you uncover yourself.

I took a few steps toward Zacharias, urgent with obvious mission. He didn’t move, and he never broke eye contact with me. I decided that I was only close enough to him when we were less than half a foot apart. When I was content with our small distance apart from each other, I stretched onto my tippy toes and took his cheeks into my hands.

Afraid I wouldn’t be able to identify my own voice again, I whispered, “meet me at eye level.”

Catering to me, he scrunched down so we were at eye level. I ended up having to take a step back in order to be able to make out both of his eyes clearly without them smudging from our close proximity. I didn’t remove my hands from his cheeks though, and there was an obvious strain in his expression; he wanted to melt into my touch.

His eyes, as bewitching as they had been, didn’t compare to how they looked now. There was so much depth, so much detail, so much intricacy within them that I wished I had a camera with lenses as good as mine just to capture what I was seeing. So bright, so inhuman, so gemlike and fascinating.

His skin. So flawless. I could make out every pore, and I could even make out the beauty speck on the corner of the right side of his mouth. His dark stubble, freshly shaven, had never complimented his tanned skin tone so well. His jawline, carved to perfection, had never seemed sharper.

Overwhelmed by his beauty, I let go of his cheeks and took a step back. I slapped my hand over my forehead, taking a deep breath as I looked down to the floor. I could feel the sweat begin to swell in their glands before even surfacing on my skin. I didn’t think I’d ever get used to this.

“I need a mirror.” I breathed, walking out of the bedroom without even lifting my head up. He stepped out of the way and didn’t follow me, perhaps realizing I needed to make this revelation alone—that I needed to see my new identity alone.

Walking into the bathroom, I closed the door behind me and flicked on the light instantly, hesitating to meet my eyes in the mirror, scared to see my reflection. I had to prepare myself under my breath, and when I looked up I was thoroughly surprised.

Like Zacharias, I looked edited—for the better, thankfully; and I was absent of any marks on my neck. My eyes, always so doe-like and dark, seemed to have lightened up a few shades—only a shade or two darker than gold, nearly bronze. My Amy Brenneman curls, always so matted and frizzy, seemed so perfectly done up; hollywood-style.

My lips had always been wider than they were full, and they had been an insecurity of mine for as long as I could remember. But my cheeks, flushed and pink like the tone of my lips, seemed to erase the insecurity I had held for so long. My lips, although they felt dry, weren’t dry at all. My freckles no longer made me look like a child. I looked like my age. And it was weird.

Had this transition....matured me? Had it made me...beautiful? Was this all in my head?

Holding contact with my eyes, that were a different colour than they had been the last time I checked, I eventually had to look away. I had to get away from them—from my newness as a whole. I turned off the light quickly and threw the door open, approaching Zacharias but not walking back into the bedroom.

He looked down at me as I looked up at him. “I’ve changed.” I whispered.

“Your eyes are suited for the night.” He explained, but didn’t explain everything else. I didn’t ask, not curious enough to understand the whole process...the whole procedure.

I took another step toward him, pressing myself flush against him. I was no longer repulsed by him, and I couldn’t bring myself to hate myself for it. He had completely changed me, causing my whole existence to do a complete one-eighty. “Is this how you see? Taste? Feel?” I whispered again, still too afraid to speak loudly.

He nodded. “Yes.”

And what I did next was entirely unpremeditated. I hadn’t meant to do it, nor did I remember wanting to do it. There was no urge to do it, and there was no motive behind it. It was pure impulse, but yet it was still too astounding to even be considered that. But once I committed my act, I knew that I was reborn when I felt no regret.

Taking Zacharias’ cheeks in my hands again, I pulled him down to my level, and I kissed the living daylights out of him.

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