I watched my daughter as she ran through the grassy field in front of me, her blonde hair glistening in the sunlight as she giggled at her large bubbles being created. My eyes drifted to the opening of a trail in the tree line and my heart fluttered, the memory of the year before coming into the forefront of my mind. My life changed drastically that day, and I never even saw it coming. Now all I wanted was to hear that familiar hum from the old tree again, just to see him one more time.
ONE YEAR AGO
I jogged the familiar running path, cutting through the trees of Central Park. I adored the city, but loved the freedom and felt peaceful isolation in the wooded section of the park, surrounded by natural beauty. It reminded me of home, and I felt a pang of homesickness as I took another turn. My thoughts began to drift to memories of my parents, wishing more than anything I could have seen them one more time before it happened. I felt the loss rack my chest and turned once more, running deeper into the trees, aching for the love only they could provide. As I turned once more, I realized I had ventured off of the main trail. Calmly, I looked around, trying to assess my surroundings. I did not see any familiar markings, and decided to turn back to try and retrace my steps.
As I turned, I heard a strange noise and stopped, listening intently. A gentle hum seemed to be coming from behind me, causing me to turn my attention back down the path I’d begun down. Curiosity getting the best of me, I decided to continue back down the path towards the noise. As I drew closer, I heard the hum grow stronger. I came into a clearing, seeing a large hardwood towering alone in the middle. A large foreign symbol was carved into the trunk. As I came closer to investigate, the hum grew louder, vibrating through me. My hand felt a pull to touch the trunk, wishing to inspect its connection to the sound. As if out of my control, my hand reached up and gently placed itself onto the symbol, the hum coursing through my entire body and sending shivers down my spine. My brain felt as if it was clouded, and then I was overcome by darkness.
I awoke to loud booms, shaking the floor beneath me. My chest was tight and my breathing shallow as I fought to control my breathing and regain my vision clearly. I felt a burning throughout my body and could not seem to move, but finally opened my eyes, focusing on my surroundings. I was in a small room, dimly lit, and I saw a shelf of materials and clothing as well as several cots sitting against the walls and corners.
What the hell? Where am I? I was just in the park, how did I get here?
I brought myself shakily onto my feet and walked over to the door, opening it to peer out. Another loud boom sounded nearby and I trembled, holding tight to the knob as the building seemed to sway. As I opened the door wider, I saw a scene of chaos. Men and women dressed in vintage style clothing were running around barking orders as men poured in on stretchers. I was instantly hit with the smell of blood and death, seeing bloodied men with limbs dangling as they screamed. My gut wrenched as the scent and the scene ahead of me overwhelmed my senses. I shut the door, closing my eyes tight attempting to remove the horror I’d just witnessed. Steadying myself, my brain began to fly through all rational scenarios, searching for any logical explanation.
Ok, let’s break this down. The last thing I remember was running through the park. Did I stumble into some type of re-enactment?
I shook my head tightly.
No, you cannot fake that kind of smell, one of blood and death enveloping a room. Ok, I must have hit my head. Maybe I am hallucinating.
My eyes flew down to my clothes and saw that I was wearing a pair of black athletic leggings and a blue racer-back top. I looked around, inventorying what was available. Seeing the shelf of clothing, I quickly crossed the room. They were clothes similar to the women outside of my door. I unfolded a vintage looking blue nurse’s dress and an apron with a large cross on the chest. I quickly changed and slipped into a pair of shoes on the bottom shelf, throwing my own clothes into the back of a nearby closet.
At least now I can blend in until I figure out what the hell is going on.
Another large boom sounded closer, vibrating the entire building around me. I steeled my nerves and reached the door once more, preparing to make my way through the room. As I turned the knob, the door opened forcibly and two men rushed through the door, nearly knocking me off of my feet.
A doctor in his 50′s barked at me in an urgent voice, thick with an English accent. “Nurse, what are you doing in here? We need you out there. We don’t have enough hands to tend to the men being brought in. This one’s a lost cause. Check him one more time and then call it. I don’t think he’s going to make it. We need you out here for the men we can help.”
In a flash, the two men dropped the injured solider onto the cot and ran out to attend to the next victim. The doctor nodded to me before exiting and closing the door. I stood still, shocked at what was unfolding around me. I could smell the man near me, drenched in blood, and forced my eyes to him. His entire front was covered in blood, his face dirty beyond recognition. He was groaning in pain and I instantly ran to his side.
“Oh sir, is there anything I can do?” I began inspecting his wounds and saw that he took a blast to the chest.
My gut wrenched and I had to look away to keep from vomiting. I heard a tight chuckle and looked back in shock to see a set of piercing blue eyes staring back into mine.
His hoarse voice spoke lowly, coated with a smooth English accent. “What the hell is an American doing in here?”
He coughed and let out another groan of pain. My hand flew to grab his, hoping to offer some type of comfort.
There’s nothing I can do for him. No one can survive a wound like this.
After a moment, he squeezed my hand through another painful groan.
I spoke, hoping to distract him. “I’m not sure how I ended up here to be honest, but I won’t leave you. You won’t be alone.”
A tear fell from my eyes as I took in the man before me. He looked young, my age or maybe a little older.
“Come on now, you don’t need to cry for me. I’ll be all right,” he said gruffly.
I shook my head as another tear fell.
“Just talk to me then. This hurts like hell and it’d be nice to be distracted from it for a bit.” His hold had relaxed momentarily on my hand as he spoke.
I could do that. I answered in a shaky voice, trying to control my trembling as I gripped tight to his hand. “I’d be happy to help you however I can. What would you like me to talk about?”
I felt his eyes searching mine and looked up to meet his. He appeared to be concentrating on something. “What’s your name?”
I wiped the tears away and squared to face him, kneeling on the floor beside his cot. “My name is Emmaline Hastings, but you can call me Emma.”
I felt him squeeze my hand and he let out another painful groan.
I spoke again quickly, trying to distract him. “It’s ok, we don’t have to talk. Please, if it’s hurting you, I’ll just sit with you.”
He let out a tight cough and responded. “No. Please, it won’t be much longer now. Just keep talking to me. My name is Alexander Beckwith. My friends call me Xander, but you can call me whatever you’d like.”
I looked up to see he was looking at me playfully. Another groan escaped from him and I could see his face change to one of pain. He gritted his teeth and gripped my hand tight.
I stroked my hand across the top of his palm and spoke soothingly. “Ok Casanova, let’s just stay focused on the task at hand then, hmm? Why don’t you tell me about your home? Or your family?”
He let out a tight laugh and slowly released his tight grip on my hand, holding it close.
“I couldn’t even begin to honestly. Why don’t you tell me about yours instead?”
I flushed and a shadow fell across my face. Death surrounded me and I was painfully reminded of my own loss. I felt his hand gently squeeze mine and my eyes flew up to gauge his next wave of pain. Instead, his eyes were looking intently at me, studying me. His painful expression had been replaced with one of confusion.
He leaned forward and I let out a gasp. “Please, you need to lie down. You shouldn’t be sitting up in your condition. Please lie back down.”
He stared at me and then let me gently ease him back onto the cot.
A shiver ran down my spine as I opened my mouth to speak weakly. “I um...I don’t have any family. My parents passed when I was younger and it’s just me now.”
He gently squeezed my hand, urging me to continue.
I took a calming breath and continued. “They died in an accident coming home one night. I was only 8. I was placed into foster care and remained there until I aged out, and then I moved straight to New York City.”
My body tensed at the memories and I took several more calming breaths. My heart rate was increasing and I felt a new wave of tears threatening to fall.
No, you have moved on from that life. It’s time to move forward and this man needs you. Keep it together Hastings.
He must have felt the tension rolling through me and he reached a hand up to stroke my cheek. In an instant, the tears fell as I gave into his comforting touch, surprised by his familiarity.
His voice spoke, more evenly than before. “I can’t begin to imagine what that must have been like. I’m sorry you had to go through that at such a young age.”
I shuddered and shook my head, furiously wiping away the tears. As my eyes met his, he breathed in sharply. I felt his body tense and waited for another painful groan, but it never came.
“Is there anything I can get for you? Some water maybe?” I asked breathily.
He held tight to my hand, shaking his head. “No, it’s almost finished. I actually think it’s time for you to go.”
Fresh tears fell from my cheeks. He seemed so calm, so brave. He was not concerned that he would die soon, and I couldn’t control the wave of emotion washing over me.
“Oh don’t say that. You’ll be ok! I can stay with you as long as you need me to.”
He shook his head, his body beginning to tense again. “No, you can’t be here for this. You need to leave now.”
I planted myself harder into the ground and gripped onto his hand. “I’m not leaving you to die alone.”
He opened his mouth to speak but was silenced when the door opened, revealing the head of another English soldier. “Hey Xander, hurry up man. We gotta get outta here before someone sees us, or you get blown up again.”
I turned my eyes to Alexander, confused. He let out a low groan of frustration and began to lean up. My hands flew up to his shoulders, trying to push him back to the cot but he was strong, pushing against me. I gasped as he sat up without a hint of pain.
“No, you need to lie back down. You can’t get up right now.”
He ran a hand through his hair and groaned in frustration.
“Damnit Kit. I was about to get her to leave. Why did you come in here? Now I have to compel her.”
My heart leapt at his sudden change, seeing he was no longer in any pain.
My eyes flew up to meet his and a look of guilt came across them. “How are you sitting right now? You were dying. How are you not in pain anymore?”
He shook his head and stood, gently taking both of my hands and pulling me up with him.
He spoke over my shoulder toward the direction of the other soldier who was impatiently waiting. “I’ll be out in just a minute Kit. Just meet me out back.”
Kit nodded and closed the door quickly behind him. My heart began to race as Alexander took my hands in his, stepping closer to me.
His closeness was unnerving and my mind was reeling. “What is going on? You can’t be standing right now. Your wound was fatal. I saw it with my own eyes.”
He looked down to me, holding me on my feet as I absorbed the events unfolding in front of me. “I’m fine. I can’t stay, but I am sorry to have to do this. I had enjoyed talking to you, but I do have to go.”
My eyes widened as I looked up into his. “GO? How can you go? You were about to die. What’s going on? You have to answer me. How is this possible?”
He rolled his eyes and let out a tight laugh. “Well, I guess I may as well tell you since you won’t remember anyway.”
Won’t remember? How won’t I remember? What is going on?
My eyes held his and I felt myself beginning to panic.
“I am standing because I am healed. Completely,” he said frankly.
“But how...?” I mumbled.
His hand ran through his hair and I felt myself sway as he removed his hand from my arm. He quickly replaced it to steady me as my eyes stared widely up into his.
“Because I am a vampire. My body heals faster than normal and while that wound would have killed any human, my body healed itself and I am fine now. I’ve actually been healing for the better part of an hour. I’m sorry, but I do have to go. I’m going to have to do this quick.”
My thoughts raced and I trembled at his answer. I spoke lowly, in a whisper. “Vampire?”