DUSK


completed

GENRE:  Twilight, Fanfiction, Original Characters

RATING: PG – 13

SUMMARY: A vampire moves to the foggy desert town of Shadow, where she finds friendship, danger, and love.

est. reading time: at least 2 hours


one

Tess says this will be the last move for us. I want to believe her. I’m tired of moving from the few friends I’ve managed to collect only to begin all over again.

Not, that I’m unpopular. Quite the contrary. My peers at once fear me and find my allure irresistible.

You see…

I’m not human.

Yes, I know how that sounds, but I haven’t been human since the 1940’s, when my family was killed in a fire.

Tess, my guardian, was hunting in the woods behind the Little Paul Baptist Church in Florida. Some bored white boys decided it would be fun to set a negro church on fire during revival.

I was well-burned at the time, but she saved me. I was the only survivor.

She told me she’d almost killed me out of pity. But Tess had been alone for so long herself, that she saved me for purely selfish reasons. I became the daughter she never had.

Had she thought on it longer, however, she might not have blessed a fourteen year old with this strange affliction.

I guess, I should count myself lucky. Our need to move has only been because of our ever-present youth. The problem of our addiction has been solved.

Tess is supplied with human blood…Well, close enough, anyway. It’s an experimental synthetic that is shipped to us. I asked her once where she gets it and she only said, “When you are older.”

Who am I to argue? She’s well over three hundred, though she looks a tenth of that, at most.

We’ve had many different kinds of living arrangements. Usually, I play her daughter, but I have played her adult sister, a few times. Human adults get far too twitchy about a girl who looks as young as I am with my disposition. So, I’d rather be with my visual peers.

It’s a sweet hell, I subject myself too. Enduring a taste of the life that was stolen from me, that night, but I have no other alternative. …My mother, father, and sisters all dead, while I go on, just the same.

I read the guilt in Tess’s eyes. She knows I don’t blame her, but it doesn’t matter. She wishes she’d had the strength to allow me to go with the rest of my kin.

So, here I am once again in a new town…Another place ideal for our kind. A dark shadowy cliché with the added twist of desert warmth and vegetation.

…Lovely.

Tess is a spiky-haired cornsilk blond, but we favor enough to pass as relatives. We both have the same narrow amber-hued eyes and full blushy pouts, but there are always looks and judgment when they see a brown child and no black father.

*****

I reclined in the backseat of Tess’s Jeep, my over-sized dark green canvas-hat crushed against the windshield, my eyes smeared with kohl liner. We are by nature beautiful creatures, but Tess says I was pretty before. Now, she says I ‘gleam with radiance’.

I do my best to underplay it.

My hair is hacked haphazardly in a wild style. I wear over-sized jeans and tops which swallow me and of course, the hats…I have many ugly crushed hats.

I draw on the glass with my finger while Tess turns in the driver’s seat to talk. Like all of our kind, her reflexes are flawless. I didn’t care if she looked at the road.

“Ibis…We’re almost there.” Ibises were my mother’s favorite flowers. That’s my only memory of my human life.

‘There’ is a fully-furnished earthship, she purchased over the internet. A strange home, if I’ve ever seen one. All curves and angles like a giant clay sculpture in the desert. Retired hippies like them because they’re ‘off-grid’. Our kind like them for the same reason.

They exist entirely through natural power. Rain water, solar energy, and radiant heat.

We pulled up to this isolated series of slopes just inside Shadow, the small earthship surrounded by strange trees as wide as they are tall and completely green from leaf to trunk.

The built-in planter on the front window was filled with dead plants.

I took that as a sign.

*****

Like a tiny dancer I lept up into my loft bed and stared at the ceiling, my eyes tracing the barely perceptible patterns in the adobe.

Tess walked into my room.

“Perfect…The refrigeration unit was stocked when we got here. You just need to warm it in the crockpot to sate yourself.”

I nodded. She stood for a few more moments and then continued.

“I-I know you crave companionship. There is another of our kind here.”

I sat up, my eyes wide with curiosity. I had yet to actually meet others like us. She’d claimed there was great danger in it.

“Dealing with others can be…sticky. When we’ve been well-settled, I’ll introduce you.”

She turned and left the room, leaving me thoroughly intrigued.

*****

The next morning, I washed and dressed. I choose to wear my floppy gray knit cap, which hung to my shoulders, gauchos, and a light long-sleeved, ivory, peasant’s top.

It was my first day of school. I took Tess’ cobalt-colored Jeep. The weather was truly unique. Colorful puffy clouds settled in a fog over the mountainous terrain. It was like driving through grey, blue, and white cotton-candy.

The school was small. I suspected I could fit three Shadow Valley High’s inside one regular-sized high school.

I pulled up early, not keen on being singled out for being new and late on the first day.

I floated into the principal’s office, my schedule in hand. I gently rapped my knuckles on the door.

“Mr. Bates?”

“-Just a second.” He called out, depressing the P.A. System button.

“Clara Henry come to the front office, Clara Henry.”

“Yes?” He said, shortly. He was dark with stick-straight black hair, pulled back into a single plait. A pair of thick rimless glasses sat on his nose.

“I’m Ibis Brice, I’m new… I just need to find my locker.The number’s not on my schedule.” I said, holding the small square of paper up.

He took it from me squinting, as if I had simply overlooked it. I could see he was trying not to look at me. That’s one of two reactions I get, openly staring or trying hard not to. I adjusted my cap.

He sighed heavily and sat back down behind his desk, bringing up my file on his computer. Without a word he wrote the number down on a post-it and handed it over, looking past me.

He snapped his fingers at the girl behind me…Clara, I presumed. She smirked as she past me, giving me the mutual, “Yeah, he’s a prick.” look. I couldn’t help but smile.

Clara was the quintessential stereotypical American beauty. Like a young pre-surgery Pamela Anderson, she was blond with clear blue eyes and lips as pouty as my own. Usually girls who looked like her gave me the bitch-look, seeing me as beneath themselves because of my color and competition because of my looks. I read none of that from her.

I turned to leave the office, brightened a bit by my first impression of Shadow High students.

I took my time walking through the hallways, memorizing little markers like the huge corkboard announcement display. I found my locker and began to unload the books I didn’t need before lunch…

“You’ve gotta be kidding me…” Clara said her ponytail bouncing on the back of her head.

“Your locker’s next to mine.” She said, nodding her head and smiling. “So, how are you liking your first day, so far?”

“I can’t really say just yet…” I said, keeping my eyes low…People always commented on the strange reddish color.

” -I’m Clara.” She said offering her hand.

“Ibis.” I replied only briskly shaking it.

“Wow! You’ve got cold hands!…Well, you know what they say about that.”

“Warm heart.” I said, smiling a little.

“What are you a freshman?” She asked, very bubbly, this one.

“A sophomore.” I replied.

“I know what it’s like being new…My dad’s retired from the Army. This is the first place I’ve lived for like, more than a year.” She said, clearly happy to have a permanent homestead.

“If you want you can sit at my table at lunch.”

“Sure.” I said, really giving a big grin.

“Wow.. You are soooo pretty. And I’m not just saying that. Really.”

“Thank you.” I said, amused by her energy. “So are you.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not a lesbian are anything…not that I have an issue with it, if you are but.. I just wanted to make sure you know right away…”

I laughed and shook my head.

“It’s okay.” I said, closing my locker.

“I’m a sophomore too, by the way.”

I nodded letting her talk. “Everyone’s pretty cool here, with a few exceptions.”

“As always…” I said.

“Oh! Your family’s military too?”

“Uhm…Not exactly.”

The sound of the school-bell cut off her puzzled look and I was pleased for the excuse to escape.

“I’ve gotta go… but I’ll see ya’ at lunch, okay?” She said, walking backwards down the hall.

“Sure.” I called back waving.

****

I slipped into the classroom and plopped down in the middle of the far row, close to the wall.

No one made me introduce myself, though plenty of people were giving me side-ward glances. A town with the population total of six hundred and eighty three would definitely notice new faces.

I slouched into my desk and busily scratched at my notepad for the reminder of my classes. As each class let out, a few students came up to me and introduced themselves… Some with the open-mouthed stare, some determinedly avoiding it.

“Friendly town.” I thought.

By the time lunch rolled around, I assumed word had gotten around about the new girl. Aside from the freshman, whose families everyone knew, anyway, I was the only truly new girl in school.

When I entered the cafeteria, I spotted Clara immediately. I grabbed a bottled water and sat down at her table.

“Everyone, this is Ibis.” She said, standing up to usher me the last few steps to her table.

“Ibis, this is everyone…Ron, Kirk, Gail, Nelli, and Jerry.”

Ron was a large freckled boy with a blond buzz-cut, most certainly a jock. Kirk too, looked athletic, with his letterman’s jacket and popular too, with his handsome symmetrical face, blue-eyes, white teeth, and brown wavy hair.

Nelli and Gail were as pretty as Clara. Nelli looked Hispanic or Indian with think dark hair waving down her back and large almost-black expressive eyes and Gail was a slightly darker blond with hazel eyes and shoulder-length curls.

Jerry on the end was a another dark-haired boy with gray eyes and thin features…He was very tall, his imposing-size clashing with his soft features.

Their thoughts about me couldn’t have been more different. Ron barely glanced at me and avoided looking for the rest of lunch. Kirk, Clara’s boyfriend I’d learned, was very attracted to me, openly staring when Clara got up to get more food. Jerry too was drawn in, giving me shy glances when he thought I couldn’t see.

Nelli tossed her lush locks and pursed her lips…And finally the bitch-look. I had hoped the other dark girl and I could be friends. Gail wanted to be friendly, but she seemed to be as threatened as Nelli.

Wonderful.

And then I felt it… Or smelled it more specifically, another like me…I glanced around the cafeteria, and spotted him, dressed in a suit. He was graying at his temples but the rest of his hair flowed back in thick inky black locks curling around the nape of his neck. He wore slightly tinted glasses and had his arms folded across his chest.

His eyes narrowed behind his lenses.

A teacher.

“Hey, Clara who’s that?” I asked.

“Mr. Redbourne. …Hot huh?” She said mock-dreamily.

Kirk squeezed her, eliciting a high giggle. I nodded in affirmation, because that’s what I was expected to do.

In truth, I found him unnerving.

****

“Hey, Bear…” A dirty-blond boy with side-swept hair and lips as pouty as Clara’s walked up to the table and playfully ruffled her hair.

“Who’s your friend?” He could only be her brother.

“Ugh! Please, let this one be.” She said, rolling her eyes.

A nagging sensation seized upon me in that moment. A hard craving welling up from deep within my being. I had human-synthetic blood, earlier that week. I should not be hungry again, now…

I balled my hands into tight fists beneath the table.

He was behind me.

“Hi, I’m Will. Ignore my sister…I’m really not that bad, honest.”

I clenched my jaw and focused on my fists.

“I’m sorry, Will. I’m suddenly not feeling very well.” I said and that was true.

I felt like tearing out his throat, drinking the sweet elixir I could smell and hear pumping loudly beneath his skin.

“Here, drink some of your wat-”

“-No!” I said, too sharply… “I mean, I think I have a stomach ache…I’m going to the nurse.”

I struggled to my feet and Clara got up too, intending to see me there…

“I can make it, myself. But thanks.” I said, trying to smile assuredly through my clenched teeth.

Will backed off, frowning.

I wandered into the hall and drew in a breath…All it would’ve taken was the reflexive equivalent of blinking and his life would’ve spilled down my throat. I looked down at the half-moon marks on my palms.

I could hear the speculation back at my table. Nelli thought I had an eating disorder. If only she’d known how right she was.

Will watched me go, saying nothing.

****

Mr. Redbourne touched my shoulder.

“How are you feeling, Ibis?”

“Strained.” I said, candidly.

“Of course…But you held up well.”

He shifted on his feet.

“My first time, I did not.”

I looked up at him. “You’ve experienced this.”

“Yes. Certain people draw us more than others. It’s rare, but it happens.”

“He smells so good.” I thought.

“-But you didn’t kill him.” He said with a smile, cutting into my thoughts. “So, like I said…you held up well.”

“How’s Tess, now?”, he asked swiftly shifting subjects, before I could think to inquire more about him.

“I don’t know. How was she when you saw her last?”

His lips curled up into a thin smile. “Touché.”

“I suspect she’s the same. If there’s one thing Tess is, it’s constant.”

He leaned in… “I’d suggest you get your fill before school, next time. And avoid Will Henry.”

He walked off.

I continued on to the nurse’s and asked for Tylenol, stashing the pills beneath my tongue and slyly spitting them into my hand when she wasn’t looking.

I could see a mirror from where I sat. My eyes were now a deep onyx color.

I went home early, that day.


two

Tess met me at the door, dressed in overalls and covered in grime. Apparently the water redistribution system needed some cleaning.”I believe I met one of your old friends at school today.” I said, hanging my pack and keys on a hook in the doorway.“Hmm. Lawrence, I presume?” She said, removing her rubber gloves.

“If Lawrence has jet black hair, with the exception of some white in the front, then yeah. Him.”

She sighed heavily.

“He’s a teacher at my school. He helped me today.” I said plopping down at the kitchen counter.

Tess followed me, her eyes furrowed in concern.

“Your eyes are black.” Before I could move to make my own, she was preparing a drink for me.

“Maybe you should just stay home….” She said quietly.

“Did you-..?”

“-No. But it was close. You didn’t say it would be like that.”

“Could I have?” Tess said, turning the knob on the crockpot to low.

I paused, thinking. She was right, there was no way she could have described the level of need I would have.

“No.”

“Well, you’re away. You should keep your distance from now on. You’re not mature enough to handle it.”

I sighed heavily. “Sometimes, I think you forget, the child is the shell.”

“Well, you forget I’m still well your elder.” Tess, said planting her hands at her hips.

“You still have much to learn, young one.” She stroked my hair, making it stand up in all directions.

“Will I feel different tomorrow?”

“The desire will still be there, though it will be suppressible, unlike today. But our supply isn’t endless. I think you need to hunt.” She said handing me the warm cup.

“I know.”

I hate television. Reading books and observing nature, including people are what I enjoy. These things are infinitely more interesting to my heightened senses.

We don’t sleep.

I do ‘rest’, laying prone for a time, with my mind restlessly traveling places I’ve been and have yet to go. …But never sleep.

****

The next morning when I got to school, I saw Will in the parking lot…His footsteps angled in my direction and I tensed, waiting for that inevitable crushing wave of tension to press upon me.

He thankfully stopped a few paces outside of my personal space, instinctively keeping his distance.

“Hi, Ibis. You feeling better?” he said, his head tipped to the side to better meet my lowered eyes on my short frame.

“Yes. I am. Thanks.” I offered a smile, but still, I felt it. It grated like starving man’s hunger pangs.

I did my best to hide it from my expression.

“Good… Listen.” he said, following me into the school.

“My sister, she likes to bag on me. I don’t go through girls like toilet paper. I’m not a dick or anything…”

I laughed. “She never said that.”

He went red. “Oh.”

“Well. Just so you know.”

“Okay.” I said.

“Hey, Ibis!” Clara spotted me in the hall.

“I’ve got to go.”

He nodded, and opened his mouth to say more. But he waved instead, and headed the opposite direction down the hall. “See you around, Ibis.”

We reached our adjacent lockers and unloaded our books.

“How are you feeling, today?” She asked, her eyes filled with genuine concern.

“I’m fine…I think I ate something bad, yesterday.”

“Oh, I know how that can be. I had this bagel once, that was just a little bit harder than usual, you know? I just thought it was stale, but oh, my GOD it had my stomach bubbling like boiled water!”

I laughed.

“So, my brother seems interested in you…As do a LOT of the boys.” she said, closing her locker, an eyebrow raised.

“Just watch out, for Will…” She leaned in and whispered. “He goes through girls like toilet paper.”

I laughed the hardest I had, in awhile at that.

****

At lunch this time, Will stayed at his table. I noticed a leggy chestnut-haired girl with pale green eyes, draping her arms over his shoulders possessively.

“You see what I mean?” Clara asked.

I hadn’t known, I was being so obvious.

“Of course she does.” Nelli, finished. “We dated back when I was freshman. Asshole cheated on me with the bitch hanging on him now, so I dumped him. But he was a good kisser.”

“With those lips, how could he not be?” Gail said smirking.

“Gawd! I really don’t want to be hearing these things about my brother, okay?!” Clara said shaking in mock disgust.

“Sorry, Clar’.”

Kirk sat down at the table and made a big show of kissing and feeling up on Clara in greeting.

“Hey, babe.”

“Jesus! Kirk not so much in public, okay?”

He was doing it for my benefit of course, a show of what he could do. I hoped Clara would see past his mask soon and dump him.

The rest of the table asked how I was doing. I was tired of it, but I was patient. It was a human thing to do. Nelli angled the conversation towards eating disorder symptoms, hoping I’d slip up and reveal something.

I’ve been at this too long to do that. I’m small, yes, but I don’t look unhealthy. In fact, quite the opposite. I suspect part of her wanted me to reveal a secret so she could cop it for herself.

****

At the end of the day, I slipped into my Jeep and cruised out onto the stretching road. The shadows in the valley were long. I enjoyed watching the tiny desert creatures scamper just on the edges of the road; mostly scorpions, lizards, and small insects.

My cellphone buzzed. I reached down and pressed the speaker button.

“Tess?”

“Yes. I just wanted you to know we’re having a guest over tonight, from your school. You know Mr. Redbourne.”

“Sure.” I said, though I was not in the mood for guests.

“How was your day?”

“Routine.”

“Good. I think I may have a job at the local library. I’ll know tomorrow.”

“I’m glad. You’d been wanting to get back to that. It’ll be nice quiet work.”

“Yes. I’m hopeful…”

I could feel what she’d wanted to ask.

“-It wasn’t as bad today. I can handle it.” I said.

“-Now.”

“I’m hunting tonight.”

“As you should. Hurry home.”

-click-

Same old Tess. Direct.

****

As I stepped through the threshold, I noted the other smell. Mr. Redbourne was there.

I hung up my things and walked into the living room. They sat across from each other.

“Come join us.”

“I’m Lawrence.” He said, shaking my hand.

He looked much more at ease. His tinted glasses were gone.

The eyes they’d concealed were very strange. One was the inky black of hunger. The other a pale gold. His face was sharply angular. His attractiveness was hard, chiseled like from out of white flint.

“An old injury.” He explained, noting my curious look.

“I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“I’m sure.” I said crossing my arms, my eyes flitting over to Tess, her chin length pale blond hair, better styled than usual.

“You’re from Florida?”

“Little Tree. Near the Everglades. Yes.”

“Seminole?”

“–And black.”

Very interested in my background. And rudely intrusive.

“You healed well.”

“Yes. So, Tess says…” I said, finally sitting down in a nearby chair.

“I wouldn’t have survived. I don’t really remember it.”

“It’s just that we’re usually perpetually the state we were in during the change.”

“This is your gift.”

“Tess, has said this.”

“What’s yours?” I said, trying to get the focus off myself, for once.

“I see their thoughts, clearly…Not a terribly comfortable gift.” He said, shifting his eyes to his folded hands briefly.

“I’ve known Tess here for about a century, though not this one, obviously.”

She forced a smile.

“It happens that way, sometimes.”

So, he’d wanted to see the girl, who could’ve been his had he stayed with Tess.

I wondered why they separated.

“I just wanted you to know that you have an ally in the school. If you need a hand, dealing with anything… The boy…”

I didn’t like where this conversation was going. He had been talking with Tess about him. I’m sure revealing his thoughts about me.

“I know he intrigues you. I just don’t think it would be wise to be as friendly as you’ve been to him. For the reason you already know, among others.”

“Jesus. This is getting tiresome. I look like a child, but I’m not one. And you Lawrence, are a stranger to me. You have no say.”

“As far as we’re concerned…” Tess interjected.

“-We who care and have lived longer, it would make sense to exercise more caution than you have been.”

“And that’s why I’m hunting tonight…but to limit myself, when I don’t have to? I might as well have been left back in that fire. I need to live, Tess.”

Tess clenched her jaw, minutely.

“It was nice speaking with you Mr. Redbourne.” I said, slipping back into my role as student.

“I’ll see you on Monday.”

****

I waited until the a.m to slip out. I went out into the night often, even with the synthetic blood, but I had forgotten the exhilaration, the thrill of truly hunting down prey.

It had been easy for me, a neat little game, with a sating reward in the end.

I stalked through mountains, sometimes speeding along so fast I was scarcely a breeze along the hard sand.

I was following the trail of solitary male cougar, who was stalking prey of his own.

****

Will and Hannah walked quietly in the night, whispering initmately. The kids had sneaked out to the mountains to watch the stars and sunrise.

Will’s flatbed truck was to be their camp-down spot. Truthfully, his reputation was more about luck than anything else. He was a handsome boy and so he got a lot of attention. He didn’t purposely try to be with lots of girls. In fact he’d never moved beyond third-base.

He dated a lot, sure, but he wasn’t malicious. In fact Hannah had schemed to get him to kiss her, with Nelli watching.

In her fury, she’d made herself the bad guy and Hannah the victim who needed comforting. She’d used that to become Will’s new girlfriend.

They both lay on their backs while in the deep quiet black of Mew Mexico, the only sound being the breeze and the distant howling of a coyote.

Will nestled Hannah in his arms as they gazed up at the multitude of stars, sparkling like tiny crystals spilled on black velvet.

“You sure you don’t want to do anything else tonight?” Hannah asked leaning her chin on his chest, her hands wandering down to his belt.

“No, I’m sorry Hannah, I’m not just feeling it tonight. I just want to be with you like this and look at the stars. Okay?”

She huffed.

“Sure.” she said, sarcastically.

“Let’s just watch the stars.”

This wasn’t working out at all the way she had hoped. Hannah had been fast. Will would be the fifth notch on her belt at sixteen. For a small town, like Shadow, that was like sleeping with half of the school.

He felt like a traitor. His body was with his girlfriend, but his mind was with Ibis, the strange, beautiful, new girl who seemed to be repelled by him.

****

I had inadvertently driven the creature into the path of two humans…ones I knew. The girl and Will.

I crouched silently behind a boulder and listened.

The creature reared up, a slow threatening growl welling up from the bottom of it’s throat.

I could see Will and the girl sit up.

“Shit! Did you hear that?” she said.

He put his hand up to silence her.

He panned the perimeter, his eyes raking across my own, for the briefest of moments. He stopped for a second, probably catching the iridescent shine…but he moved on when the growling started up again in another direction…closer this time.

The cougar was dangerously hungry.

“Oh, God!”

She said and began to try to scramble up out of the flatbed…

Will tried to make her freeze, but she punched him in the shoulder and yanked back too hard. She flipped over the side and cracked her head on the hard ground.

She’d knocked herself out.

Will hopped down to her side, but the threatening rumbling was much closer… He looked up and saw the creature staring at them, it’s teeth bared.

I moved, before I could think better of it. Quicker than a blink, I snatched up the cougar and carried it behind some faraway brush…Far enough away that he couldn’t reach me, nor I him.

He couldn’t have seen me. It was too dark and I was too quick. I drained it quickly, sating my body but draining the cougar’s body had only wet my appetite.

I still wanted Will’s blood.

****

It was there and then it was gone. Will sat over Hannah shaking and confused. The cougar had literally disappeared.

There was something else out there. He had seen another creature’s eyes, he was certain of it.

He got up and picked up Hannah. He pushed her into the passenger-side of his truck and closed the door.

And then he sped off, his mind racing, still panicked.

He was driving stupidly.

He looked back, wondering if the other creature were behind him and lost control, swerving and running headlong into a large ditch. He cracked his head on the steering wheel and knocked himself out.

****

“Shit.” I thought. “He’s unconscious and injured. He’s bleeding.”

The smell of it filled every part of me…I was drowning in it.

My feet carried me towards him before I could think against it.

When I got to the truck, I could see the blood on his forehead.

I purposely avoided him. I lifted Hannah out first. She had no injuries, aside from the large knot on the back of her head.

And then I looked at Will. His arm was fractured. And there was a small cut on his brow.

I dragged him out, as well.

And then, I just couldn’t help it…

I wiped a finger across his forehead, picking up his blood there.

I stuck it into my mouth sucking with relish my eyes closed. Looking down at him, I knew it would only take a slight movement to finish him and his girlfriend. That would be the end of my problem. It would be easy and beyond satisfying.

My body wanted it. I was still, unable to decide which mind to follow. Desire or will. A few more seconds and the decision would be made for me.

He stirred, his eyes half-opening.

I moved quickly from his reach and view.

Before I knew it, I was home again, taste of him still in my mouth.

I hoped he thought I was a dream.


three
It was an unusually bright day, giving me the perfect excuse to stay home. I had no desire to see Will and possibly trigger some memory he had of me.Maybe a day or two away, would help.I spent the day helping Tess spruce up the earthship, staining the adobe walls a more soothing eggshell color.

“So…” she said, as she dabbed the walls with color.

“Are you going to tell me what you did last night?”

“What?”

“Come on, Ibis you can’t hide anything from me. I’ve known you for far too long.”

“What, did you kill someone last night? A vagrant or thief, perhaps?…”

I frowned at her, disappointed by her lack of faith in me.

“And you claim to know me.”

“Well, then…” She put down the sponge and placed a hand on her hip.

“Your eyes are a nice shade of crimson this afternoon.” She smiled, her eyebrows raised.

“So, you’re either lying to me…or you’re lying to me.”

“I didn’t really feed as much as …taste a little.” I looked down, very much embarrassed by my slight indiscretion…But, who was I kidding? I’d probably throttle the poor boy, if I saw him again.

She sighed. “It’s the boy from school isn’t it?”

I looked up, not entirely shocked by her deductive skills.

“Yes…but I didn’t bite him. He was bleeding and I…sampled. He didn’t. He won’t turn.”

“-And I was helping him. Otherwise I would have never done it. A wildcat almost attacked him and his date, last night and then he crashed his car…He just had an unlucky evening.”

“It’s a good thing you showed up, huh?” She said and sardonic grin twitching the corners of her mouth.

I sighed, frustrated. “I don’t want this.”

She removed a glove and placed an assuring hand on my shoulder.

“I know.” she said, frowning.

“…Look, this is too much for you. You won’t be satisfied until you have your fill-”

“-No, Tess. I’m not going to risk everything we’ve managed to do for ourselves just for a moment of pleasure.” I crossed my arms across my chest.

“…I can assure you. It lasts longer than a moment.” She said, her eyes, very serious.

“I won’t be angry. In all the years you’ve been completely unselfish. Not harming one innocent soul. That’s better than I’ve managed.”

“Can we move?” I asked suddenly.

“It will take awhile to find another place…It took me two years to find this place.”

I put a hand to my head.

“Do you want to leave school?” She made it sound like a statement, instead of a question.

“No. It’s the only place where I’ve felt…even remotely normal.”

“…And this is the only school, I’ve been in where kids are at least trying to my friends. Instead of the other way around. …Something beyond the longing and fear…”

“I see.” She said.

“Well. We’ll see if you’re up to the challenge. I do know of one of us who has managed to deal with it. Even loving his intended prey, I might add. If one can do it. Others can follow suit.”

I ignored the implication of some sort of romantic notion. It would be all too confusing, a meal of the most macabre kind. One of loved flesh.

****

I’d stayed out the entire week, though the weather had misted up sufficiently by Thursday.

On the following Monday, I explained to the principal that I had chronic health issues, life-threatening. Our “doctor’s note” provided the proof. He frowned his concern at me and I felt a twinge of guilt, but it was necessary.

Will was the first person I met in the damn hall, his right arm from wrist to elbow, covered in plaster. I tried keep a wall of distance between us.

“Hey, Ibis. We were worried about you.” His face clearly showed his concern, his brow furrowed, his full lips tensed.

“I’m fine. I just have a health issue, that I’d rather not talk about.” I said, strutting past him.

It hurt to be so cold to him…but anything to make him -not be around me so much would be good for him and me. He called out behind me.

“-Are you not going to ask about my cast?”

I ignored it.

As I stalked through the hallway, I noted Hannah squealing loudly, her bony frame bouncing past me and into Will’s arms. His eyes briefly caught mine looking directly into his as he twirled her in his arms.

Shit.

****

Clara met me at our usual spot by the lockers. She had the same concerned look on her face.

“…Well, is there anything I can do?”

“I promise, rest is the best thing for me, really.”….rest and feeding on lots of human synthetic blood, I thought.

I barely concentrated during my classes, thinking too hard about Will’s glance. And that’s all it was…A glance, really.

So then why was I analyzing it, so much?

Just another boy…with beyond tempting blood. I clutched my over-sized t-shirt at just the thought of it.

“Ibis? Ibis?” Everyone turned to look at me. I slumped in my desk.

“Yes, Mrs. Tyler?”

“I just asked you what the four branches of the government ar-”

I rattled them off quickly before she could finish the question.

“It is good that you are so smart, young lady, but it would be smarter to pay attention.”

I sighed deeply, waiting for the relief that was everyone returning their attention to History instead of me.

The rest of the day was much easier…Up to a point.

I’d had lunch at my usual spot, with more sympathy for Gail, as she had been blown off for the skinny bag of bones, that was Hannah. I understood her jealousy, more than I’d liked

****

I left the school, my black backpack slung over one shoulder, I noted the jogging sounds behind me and knew who they belonged to.

“Will.” I said, coldly.

“Is there any reason in particular that you don’t like me?” Wow, straight to the point. I had to admire that.

“No. I just don’t.” I said and began to walk away…He touched me, grabbing my arm, to keep me from leaving. I had to be careful. It would have been all too easy, an accident, really to snap that other arm of his, pulling away.

“Why do you even care? Can’t I just be friends with your sister and leave it at that?”

“Because I don’t think you care as little as you pretend to.”

“What?” I said raising my voice.

“I mean, I don’t think, it’s about you not liking me.” He said, boldly.

“In fact, I think you do. I’ve seen you watching me…because I’ve been watching you too.” He added, his complexion flushing deep pink.

I backed a few steps. He had no idea what that did to me.

“You have a girlfriend, remember? Her name is Hannah.”

“-Not anymore.” He said with a look so hopeful, I wavered in my protective stance. I wanted to move closer.

“What? -Why?”

“I uh, had an incident last week and she showed her true colors. They weren’t colors that I liked.”

I sighed, hoping he read it as dismissal instead of relief.

“I was…hoping, we could get over whatever it was that you don’t like about me, and maybe even be friends.”

“Will, honestly? You make me uncomfortable.” The understatement of the century, but at least somewhat truthful.

“You are so strange.” he said, his expression flitting between rapt fascination and frustration.

“You are the most beautiful girl in this school and yet…You don’t seem to care. You wear these clothes” He said taking an over-sized sleeve in his hand. I pulled away.

“Every guy and some girls too…would give their right arm to go out with you and yet..You seem oblivious.”

Big word for the a high school kid. Advanced placement, indeed. If I’d made known the true extent of my knowledge I’d be that and beyond.

“Do you think we’re all some kind of backwards desert people?”

“Of course not.”

“Then, why won’t you go out with anybody?”

“-Because I’m afraid, okay?”

Once again, truth.

“Afraid of what?” He said, taking the two steps toward me, I had earlier taken away.

“I don’t want to get serious with anyone, because of my illness.” Still, no lies. Strange that I could tell even half-truths to this one.

“Well, what have you got, exactly?”

“That’s not your business…” I said, sternly.

“Does it have anything to do with you being out in the middle of the night, last week?”

…damnit.

Deny it. “I uh…” DENY IT.

“I couldn’t sleep, so I went for a hike.” …Stalking a cougar to eat, which almost ate you.

“How did you…?”

“I wasn’t sure until just now.” He said smugly.

“You called the police, when you saw my car accident, didn’t you?” Good, he clearly didn’t suspect anything else.

“A hike, huh? Twenty miles into the brush…. In the middle of the night. That’s an odd excursion.”

“I drove for most of the way.” I added.

“I wanted to see the stars. I heard the crash and went to investigate.”

“Does the fresh night air help you feel better?” he asked, his eyes narrowed.

“Yes. Sometimes.”

He seemed to be trying to decipher me, his eyes looking directly into my own until I turned away.

“Hey! Ibis!” It was Clara. I had never been so happy to see her.

I turned to wave and smile. Will nodded at me. “There’s so much to you, Ibis. …I won’t give up until I figure you out.”

“And Ibis?” he said, touching me again, sending a chill up my arm. “Thanks.”

I nodded and walked towards Clara.

“Hey, I was hoping you’d give me a ride. My car’s in the shop.”

“Sure.” I said, cheerfully.

As we walked towards the truck, Clara sing-songed. “Sooo, what were you talking about with my brother?”

“Oh, he was just asking how I was doing.”

“I’m sure that’s really getting old.” Clara said laughing.

We both slided in and I closed my door, sticking my keys into the ignition.

“You know, he asks about you, all the time. It’s like he’s obsessed. …And now, that Hannah’s out of the picture…”

“Clara, Nelli’s sort of my friend… I don’t want to get into that.”

“Your friend?” She said, eyebrows raised. “Ibis, even I know she’s a bitch and she’s been sitting at our table since she started school.”

I laughed. “I don’t think anyone else would put up with her. I felt bad.” I was pleased the subject moved away from Will.

“Clara, your heart is way too soft.” I said, but who was I to talk?

“Yeah, I know.” she said, cocking her head.

“Really, she’s not so bad when it comes to the real stuff.” She said, sliding the elastic out of her hair. In that moment, I imagined what she would be like, if she were like Tess and I.

Still sweet, I suspected, and powerfully-beautiful. …And so would Will.

“When my grandmother was in the hospital last year, you know she was the only one of my friends to visit?”

“She may be a bitch in school, but she sticks when things get tough.”

“…So, back to my brother.” -Damn.

“You two looked cozy back there. I mean, for you. That is. You seem to have an aversion to touching people.”

“Yeah, it’s a weird OCD thing, I think.” I said shrugging.

“And wow, you drive really well, for someone who barely keeps her eyes on the road.”

“It’s a gift.”

Clara seemed nonchalant, but she was observant. I had to be more careful.

“Listen, Ibis, would you drop me off at Kirk’s? He lives just up the road and to the right.”

“Yeah.”

I glanced at her, trying to seem like I was concentrating a bit more on my driving.

I ventured a question. “If I say something, will you promise you won’t get mad?”

“If it’s that Kirk’s a cheating jerk, I know.”

“You know?…Then why do you stay with him?” My reading skills only go as far as emotions. So, this was a real shock.

“Well, he’s nice to look at and we do have fun..if uh, you know what I mean.”

“I think we’re kinda’ just sort of, mutually engaged in enjoying each other, without the baggage, you know?”

“Yeah.” So, Clara was just as frightened of intimacy as I was. No, wonder we got along.

“Oh, wow, what brand of body glitter is that?!”

It took me just a second to realize what she was talking about. Shafts of white sunlight had pierced through the thick low, fluffy clouds and shined on the back of my wrist.

My skin refracts light in a really odd way. It’s the reason we have to live in areas where the sun doesn’t shine much.

“Oh, yeah.” I said moving my wrist out of the sun’s path. “I got it from Seattle. I’ve had it for so long, the label’s long since, rubbed off.

“It’s amazing…It really makes you sparkle, but not in that cheap way, you know?”

“It’s like you really do sparkle.” she said, still staring at my wrist.

I forced a chuckle.

“If I remember the brand, I’ll let you know.”

“Sure.” she said. “Or… you could let me borrow it sometime?”

“I’d like to, but I’m running low…If I still have some by homecoming, I’ll definitely let you give yourself a dusting.” I said, nervously.

“Oh, we’re here .” She announced, pointing to a low house surrounded by odd, spiky-looking desert trees.

Before I could come to a complete stop she opened the door and hopped out, her book bag bouncing on over her shoulder. She took a brief moment, as she stood up the run her fingers through her hair.

Then she looked back and waved.

****

As I pulled into my own drive-way, Tess met me, her eyes glistening with tears.

I lept out of the truck reaching her in less than a second.

“What’s happened?”

“Lawrence has been killed.”


four
“By who?””I don’t know…” She said.”It had to have been another one of us.” She said, shaking her head in disbelief.“But how? Why?…Why would someone do this?”

“I don’t know…But I don’t want you going back to school until we figure this out. It’s too dangerous.”

“What happened to him?” I asked.

“The official story is that he disappeared….But I found the spot where he was killed. His body had been reduced to ash and mixed with the dirt.”

She said, disgusted.

“Just…Stay here.” She said, both hands on my shoulders.

“I’ve been trying to get in touch with a few of his contacts, but I think they too, are being careful and laying low. I’m hoping Lawrence already got in touch and they’re on their way.”

“How many?” I asked…At once curious and afraid.

“Three.”

That night I had many things on my mind as a lay on my bunk.

Will’s memory.

Lawrence’s death.

Poor Tess…

And.

-and…

My breath caught and I felt a warm electric charge flow through me, starting at my feet and finishing in my head.

My eyes, fluttered closed …and I was someplace else.

I was in the brush, wearing the tanktop and yoga pants combination I was wearing now…My most comfortable clothing.

My feet were bare…Everything had a vague shifting haze around it, like it wasn’t real. Which, of course, it wasn’t.

I did a slow turn in place, scanning things human eyes couldn’t see.

It was then that I noticed the spot on the horizon, it wasn’t close enough for me to determine who it was, but I knew, what…

He would arrive at any moment.

And then he was in front of me. A beautiful boy…more so than anyone I’d ever see. His white skin held an olive undertone, that told me he or his kin might have been from a warmer climate. His hair fell in gentle mahogany waves around his face. His black eyes were entrancing and dangerous.

He wore the clothing of a backpacker. Khakis with many pockets and a long-sleeved sportshirt.

He looked like a teen, like me, but it was clear that he was not. His eyes traveled over me in a way that made feel naked. I tried to move, but my body was rooted to the ground.

He stepped forward and slowly, gently, caressed my cheek. His hand sliding down my face to neck…which he held. And then he did something strange, he pulled me close and bent so his lips barely brushed against mine and he whispered something I could not hear…

Then he inhaled…

I sat up with a start. Tess, standing over me, watchful and worried.

“What just happened?”

“You were gone for awhile…Just completely prone and unseeing, like you were asleep. But your eyes were wide and aware.” Tess said, stunned.

“Each of us, bring different gift with us over to this world…You feel others’ emotions. Your healing has never been a useful thing, I’ve thought. But now…”

“Another one of us had to be the one who did that to you. And I bet whoever it was, had something to do with Lawrence’s death.” She said, her voice, cracking with anger.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her about the rush of desire I felt for this creature, just from that brief encounter…

****

Everything had become so complicated since we’d moved to Shadow. Our kind getting killed, Will, and now this…burden of yearning.

I shivered, feeling the memory of his cold hard touch, again. I had been sheltered by Tess, despite my long life, had known nothing of love, besides my bond with Tess. Never the deep connection between two who want each other in other ways.

I wanted this stranger with a carnal lust similar to, but still different from my desire for human blood. That ache affected my head and deep in the pit of my stomach…

This was a pooling warmth which began below my belly and spread from there.

With Will, it was different. Repelled by own desire to do what instinct dicticted and yet drawn by his…everything else.

The stranger affected me in a much more basic way. The fear I knew I should have, just wasn’t there.

****

…”and we just wanted to come see how she’s doing…”

I heard the voices floating through the house.

“….well, she’s resting now…I just gave her medication…”

“Tess, it’s okay.” I said, walking to the front door. There was Clara and Will.

“Well. Don’t just stand there…Come in. Sit with me for a bit.”

I had been away from school for more than two weeks now, and I missed them more than I cared to admit.

“You do look…different.” Clara said, placing a hand on my forehead. Will hovered nearby…Still keeping his distance. Good for him. I’d forgotten how good he smelled.

My eyes were a strange color…Remaining an inky black regardless of how well I’d fed.

Clara leaned forward, her eyes cautiously scanning for Tess, not knowing how useless that was.

“Look, Ibis…You’re going to have to level with us.”

“I don’t have to do any such thing.” I said, suddenly very defensive.

“Ibis…” Will began. “You’re not…normal. We’ve both been noticing little things.”

“The fact that you don’t eat…” Clara supplied.

“Or how your eyes change color.” Will said, frowning and closely watching how they’d changed, even now.

“Listen.” she said. “It’s just really freaky. I think you’re cool, but you’re definitely…Not like us.”

She said, struggling for the correct words. Nothing but open curiosity came from both of them. Although, I did feel some excited anticipation from Clara and more caution from Will. I don’t think he really wanted to know. Clara was probably hoping I was an alien.

“Okay.” I said, sighing.

“Tess.” I said, my voice low and level.

She was just there. And they both jumped.

“Jesus!” Clara said.

“What just?-”

“You wish to explain or shall I?” She said.

I began. “I was born in 1943…Well, my second birth anyway…”

I continued on, telling them all about my life up until this point, from the rescue from the wildcat to our fear of new interlopers. And they remained quiet, never once interrupting in the expected disbelieving fashion.

After I’d finished, I took a deep breath. I did leave out the part about Will’s special allure and my waking dream. That felt too personal to share with them both.

I was silent, allowing them to consider the information. I had laid it all out the table. They could either dismiss me and Tess as crazy people or believe.

“Can I…touch you?” Will offered, first.

“Not now.” I said, a bit too quickly.

Clara said. “So, how does it taste?”

Clara’s very favorite thing in the world was chocolate. She loved the stuff.

So, I said…”Imagine you have to live without chocolate for a whole year. Just none, in any form. Then you’re left to starve for a few days. And someone finally sets the most delectable looking chocolate in the world, in front of you, with a side of milk.”

“Wow.” She said.

It wasn’t exactly the best description, but it was the most relatable.

“So, then that’s why you’re not in school?” Will asked.

“I can’t. Until we know who’s responsible for Lawrence, it’s just too dangerous.”

“If I didn’t think you might be in danger too, I would not have told you this.”

“Why would we-?”

“Because we’re her friends.” Will finished.

“Yes.”

“Well, it’s not like we can do anything. You’re freakishly fast, strong, and virtually indestructible.”

“I think Lawrence’s death has proven, that’s not the case.” Tess said, stepping forward.

“You all will be watched.”

Tess stood, with her hand on her hips, her head tilted in that way, I recognize as her thought pose.

“Actually…I think you should go back to school, Ibis.”

“Whoever did this, doesn’t want to draw attention to themselves.”

“You can keep an eye on them while you’re there. And I’ll keep an eye on you until the others come.”

“You’re also hoping we’ll draw them out.” Clara said, uncharacteristically serious.

“Yes. I have to admit that is true.”

“So.” I said. “Now, that you know. How do you feel?”

“Relieved, actually.” Clara said and she wasn’t lying. “I don’t have to agonize over my best friend dying on me.”

Will’s thoughts were a little different. “And you?”

“I’m just..amazed to know your real age.” I smiled.

“In spirit. But I find that I feel as much a child now, as I did then, with the way Tess treats me.”

I said trying to reassure him, that I wasn’t exactly off-limits. I rolled my eyes at Tess.

She swatted me. But I could see he was intimidated. Even more than he already was.

With the burden of my secret on the table, I knew I had to tell him more…Later.


five

When I got back to school, things were definitely different. Nothing like Mr. Redburne’s disappearance had happened in Shadow, in a long time.The kids still looked a bit shell-shocked. And of course, there was the whispering about me. I had been out for a long time.I kept track of Will and Clara by smell. There were no others of my kind, nearby, that I could tell.

I was kneeling beside my locker, when I felt it again…The shift in realities.

I was in that hazy place that didn’t really exist. I felt cold hard hands weigh heavily on my shoulders, the breath of a whisper at my neck. The hands slipped down my arms…

“-Soon.-” It said.

From far away came Clara’s voice… “Ibis…Ibis!”

“Yes, I’m okay.” I said.

She shook her head, her face incredulous. “…No, you aren’t.”

“You were gone. I could tell.”

She put her hand on my back as if to support me. She knew it would do no good, but she is human, a creature of habit.

“Yes. I was.”

“Where?”

I shook my head and got up. “I have to go to class…And so do you.”

The hallways were rapidly emptying.

Clara pursed her lips in frustration and stacked her books in her arms.

“You know, just because you’re…different, doesn’t mean you don’t need help sometimes.”

She turned and headed towards her class.

I went in the opposite direction.

She was uncharacteristically quiet at lunch. Punishing me for keeping this from her.

She didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day.

‘Well’, I thought.

‘Perhaps I could have a word with the other Henry.’

****

I waited for Will after school.

As he got close, the weight was still there, but I was getting used to it…No, that’s not right. It’s not something I could ever truly get used to, but it was…manageable.

“Will. Wanna go for a quick ride, in my Jeep?” I inflected my voice so he understood that I really needed to talk.

He nodded slowly.

“Okay.”

His caution wasn’t because of what I was. I believe he was likely afraid of what I might say.

I pulled off swiftly, disappearing into the ever-present mist.

I turned to look at him.

His eyes flitted between me and the road.

“Don’t worry…We won’t crash or run over anything. Promise.”

“There are few things I didn’t say, that you need to hear and understand.”

He inhaled deeply, bracing himself for the worst.

“Go ahead.”

“Will…The way I perceive you. The way I feel around you…It’s different from any other human, I’ve encountered.”

“I understand.” He said, lowering his head.

“I repel you, for some reason.”

“What? -No, quite the opposite.”

“You tempt me more than any other.” He looked up into my eyes and I could see this was something he probably imagined me saying, in his wildest dreams.

“I did hear that… right?”

“Yes, but…I’m dangerous to you, understand?”

I looked at him seriously, hoping I was getting through.

“Killing. It’s what we’re made for. And you, I want to kill more than any other person, I’ve known. You smell, really, really good to me.”

He gave me the funniest look then, I almost laughed.

“So…I’m your movie theater popcorn.”

I giggled.

“What?!”

“Popcorn. Whenever I go to the movies, no matter how expensive that stuff is, I have to get popcorn. As soon as that smell hits me.

I swear they must lace the salt with crack.”

“Okay.” I said, the last of my giggles fading. “I’ll take it. But it really is much more than that.”

“I need you to understand this, Will.”

“I do.” He said his eyes brightening. “You don’t hate me.”

“No. I don’t hate you.” I was suddenly shy… -I don’t get shy.

“In fact…I kinda’ like you.”

There was an awkward silence.

“Look, I have to get you back to school, so you can pick up your car.-”

He cut me off.

“-So, how are feeling. Sitting with me, right now?”

“I’m using every fiber of my being to not kill you.”

“Oh.”

“You asked.”

“But…you’re able to do this. You definitely seem better at it than you did when we first met.”

I paused before giving an answer. ‘Better’ wasn’t really the word, but…

“I think it’s like being hurt really badly. The pain doesn’t fade and you don’t really get used to it, but you can…Sort of transcend it? Push it back a bit. That’s what I’m doing.”

He nodded. “That makes sense.”

“If you pull over…”

He sucked in those lips of his, red with his tempting vessels. “Can I…I mean would it be okay, if I tried to touch you?”

“You already have.”

“No, I don’t mean to get your attention. And even then you shrugged me off pretty quickly. I mean…I just wanna know what your skin feels like.”

I paused for a long while. I’m sure it was torturous for him. We have much more patience than humans do.

He was playing with fire and he didn’t care. What was wrong with him? He’d risk his life to touch me? Teens are reckless creatures. There was absolutely no fear. Will was too foolhardy.

But somehow…I did what he asked. I didn’t answer him. I just pulled over, took my key out of the ignition and lay back.

I lay my arm in between our seats and said, “Be careful. If I say back off…You need to listen.”

He nodded.

I closed my eyes briefly, filling my senses only with his smell (painful yearning) and waited. Learning to transcend, I hoped.

I expected him to touch my arm as if to test me, like poking a dead thing with a stick. But what he actually did, surprised me.

He slipped his hand on top of my own and gripped it slightly.

I opened my eyes to see him smiling.

“I’ve been wanting to know what that would be like.”

I smiled right along with him despite myself. Being wanted. Not for the glamour of our kind, but for me. How good that felt. I think it was helping me.

I closed my eyes and slowly, carefully closed a few fingers around his hand.

And then he did something very stupid. My eyes flew open to his smell very close to my face, his lips brushing my own, feather-light before I had time to react.

But I did.

…In time. Good for him.

I cringed back to the driver’s side window, creating a spider’s web crack in the glass.

“Don’t ever do that again.”

“-I.”

I put my keys into the ignition and drove as quickly as I could, back to school.

As I pulled up next his car, I waited for him to get out. Why wasn’t he getting out?

“I’m sorry. I’ve just been wanting to and you looked so peaceful. And I thought.”

“You thought, I’d be okay…Not you.”

No, he hadn’t been afraid for himself at all. What the hell was wrong with him??

“Your lack of preservation frightens me, Will. I won’t be okay, if I hurt you.”

“I won’t be okay, if I can’t…” I could hear his heart accelerate as it had when our lips… touched.

I frowned and looked away. A different pain was tearing at me, now. All this time, in all the many schools I’d been in, I thought I was tasting the life I’d never known.

But I hadn’t. I didn’t just want Will’s blood anymore…If I ever had only wanted it in the first place.

But I knew now. I could admit it to myself.

I wanted him too.

****

When Will, opened the door, I smelled it. The others. They were coming towards us both.

“Get back in the car and lock the doors.” as urgent as I made that sound, he did it immediately.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a barrier if they really wanted him, but it would slow them down enough for me to intervene.

They all appeared through the mist like some kind of strange posse. All dressed like traveling performers or punks…Definitely deviants.

They had visible tattoos and wore clothing that looked like it came from Hot Topic. Living up to the stereotype. Maybe they were fans of The Lost Boys.

There were three of them. An Asian girl, smaller even than myself, a tall handsome well-muscled man, who was so close to her, that I guessed they were together and another…Him.

I backed a few steps at seeing him.

And Tess…Tess made herself known, coming forward.

“How long have you been near range?” She asked.

She sounded more powerful and imposing than I’ve ever heard her. Every bit of her three hundred years.

“Not long…”said the big one. His eyes were the blood red of one who definitely feeds on human blood. Not synthetics.

The other one’s eyes were boring a hole in me. Will had noticed. He was practically radiating jealousy.

I moved to his side, in front of the passenger-side window, blocking both of their views.

“We’ve lost one of our own, here.” she said, gauging their reaction.

“-Lawrence?” The girl said, stepping forward.

“Yes.” Tess replied. “How do you know him?”

“He made me.”

six

“You’re Sylvia.” Tess said, her eyes narrowing.”Yes. And these are my friends.”She turned to the large one, who was rubbing her back. “Holt and…”

She gestured at the one I’d already seen before. “Stephen.” He nodded in my direction, only.

Holt looked like a Greek God, all taut sinewy muscle, lean lines, and thick unruly dirty-blond hair. His face was all masculine angles softened by his eyes, which were free of malice.

Stephen…Stephen was hot. There was just no other way to describe him. He would have left Clar’s boyfriend, Kirk easily in the dust at Shadow high. The girls would not have been able to get anything done.

Everything about him screamed sex. From his thick mahogany black waves, to his shiny dark eyes, his pupils seemingly fully dilated with arousal, to way he stood….with a confident masculine grace that would make a girl think he could take her in two strides.

“And you have no need to worry for your charge, there.” she said, indicating Will.

“We only hunt non-innocents.”

“And you judge this how?” I said, speaking for the first time.

“We have unique talents.” she said. She made no indication that she would explain further, but I already knew Steven’s.

“Did your friends know Lawrence, as well?” I asked and Tess flashed her eyes at me, angrily.

“She speaks out of turn. She means no ill-will.” She said.

“Of course.” Sylvia said, an eyebrow raised.

“She’s yours I take it?” The sentiment was dripping in condescension.

“I made her, but she belongs to none but herself.” Thank you, Tess.

“Do you have a place to stay?” Tess asked.

“Of course…I believe you were expecting us. Were you not?”

“Yes…I was expecting you, Sylvia.” She said. She somehow indicated her distrust of her group without insulting them. Her years were very clear, now.

“Good. We can help you find the rogue who did this.”

She didn’t even bother to turn around. She simply raised her hand slightly and they all departed from her company running and bounding away so quickly, they blurred.

So, Sylvia, the tiniest and most inconspicuous of the bunch, was definitely the leader.

“They will seek out others.”

“They won’t find anything.” Tess said, shaking her head. “I did the same.”

“I have synthetic in my home. I’m willing to share…I think it will be difficult to find non-innocents in this range, Sylvia.”

“Not for me.” She said, her eyes narrowing. “I can see their sins. And they all have them. some have a small wave, others a tsunami…And it’s hardly ever who you’d think.”

She angled her neck a bit looking at Will.

“His is a gentle ebb in the ocean.” She said, looking at me.

Will furrowed his brow, looking like she’d insulted his manhood. He’d done few bad things, he thought.

…Still a teenage boy. I smiled.

“Taking on human charges?” Sylvia said, smiling. “Well, that is the oddest thing, I’ve come across in my travels.”

She said, but not unkindly.

Tess seemed to relax a bit. “Come to my home and rest. We really must talk more extensively.”

Tess flashed her eyes at me and I knew what she wanted.

I got back into the truck. “I’m driving you home, Will.”

“What? Don’t I get any say in this? – And did you know that guy?”

“No questions, Will. You may be in danger. We have to exercise caution, understand?”

He was angry, frustrated, everything that was instinct for a human male was being side-tracked.

He had to yield to a girl’s whims, be protected by her.

****

We rode along in silence for awhile, but this time I paid full attention to the road.

“Are you going to tell me how you know that guy?”

“I don’t.” I said, not exactly fibbing.

“Well, he seemed to know you…Or at least not be shy about his interest in you. And he is…like you.”

I looked at him, my features softening. “I like you, Will.”

“Stephen unnerves me.” I said returning my attentions to the road.

I didn’t let on what else I’d felt from him, that made me feel that way. The naked unbridled lust. The contempt for Will.

I had hoped he understood that any harm done to Will would kill anything, any kind contact that we might have.

“Yes…but that’s not all he does, is it?” It wasn’t really a question as a demand for confirmation.

I paused. “No.”

His hands balled up into fists.

“You needn’t worry about me…I wouldn’t. I feel more for you than you know.”

“So, do I. It scares me how much space you take up in my head. I think about you all the time. I’ve wondered if you’ve hypnotized me, or something.”

“-I can’t do that, Will.”

“But you have.” He said, seriously. “That’s what you’ve done…Whether you intended to or not.”

I looked at him then and both of our eyes were held captive for a time.

I sighed. “Just stay home. Explain what you can to Clara…Please.”

I pulled up to his expansive white adobe home.

He opened the door and hopped out, turning to look at me one last time.

“Be careful.” He said, his eyes full of fear for me.

“I will.”

****

About four miles from my home, he stood in the middle of the road, blocking my path.

Stephen.

I gripped the steering wheel and watched him walk around to my side of the truck.

I didn’t lower the windshield.

“What do you want?” I asked.

He smiled. “Oh, you already know that, don’t you?”

“I’ve already touched you, after all…” My foot barely touched the gas pedal. I could speed off in a millisecond.

“You’re so sweet. …Untouched. …Pure. …Rare for our kind.” He said, inhaling my scent, with a relishing sigh.

“You do this a lot.” I said. “I’m some kind of new challenge for you…”

I shook my head at him, like he was despicable, beneath me.

“…For all your years, you’re still a pathetic slut.”

He grinned at me now, exposing his even white teeth.

“Aww…You prefer rabbits to wolves?” He said placing a palm on my windshield. “Still I do love your nerve, too much for a human to handle…” He said, coming closer.

“-Shouldn’t you be heeding your mistress?” I asked, not wanting the direction of his thoughts to go anywhere near Will.

“Sylvia, understands my needs. Blood sates one hunger…but not the other.”

“I’ll leave you be, for now. I can wait. It makes the conquest all the more satisfying…”

He angled his regard in a more thoroughly appraising way.

“I may even keep you. You are a beauty.” he said, stroking the glass as if were my cheek.

“And don’t you worry, your boy will remain unharmed.”

He shook his head and met my eyes.

“…Singular. A unique creature even among our own.”

He let his gaze drip over me..his lips parted.

“I will have you.”

I stepped on the gas pedal and sped off, watching his figure disappear in my mirror.

seven

Routine.We must continue it, lest we lose any chance of flushing this murderer out.And so, I went back to school the following Monday.

I entered the hallways, my clothing typically slouchy, wrinkled, and far too large for my frame. I walked towards my locker…and Clara met me halfway.

“Will told me.” She said. At least she was talking to me, again.

“Did this guy have anything to do with your…fainting spell the other day?” She whispered.

“What would make you think that?” I said, passing her, continuing on towards my locker.

“Honestly?…Because you looked like you were having a sex-dream.”

“Well, I can assure you, that’s not what it was.”

“Uh-huh.” She definitely wasn’t buying it.

“…Of course, I would hope it was about my brother, except…Well.”

She sighed. “There’s a new guy here. Hotter than any guy I’ve ever seen. I bet he’s your Stephen…”

“Mine?…No, I really don’t want him.”

“Well then…Can I have him?” She said, her eyes widening as Stephen walked down the hallway towards my locker.

It was just as I’d predicted, every girl’s eyes followed him, completely under his spell. His hair had been spiked up in the fashion the kids seem to like, his clothing style slightly rebellious in all black.

I rolled my eyes.

“Ibis.” He said in greeting. “It’s good to see you again.”

“I promise, I’m not here for you.” he said, as I stubbornly ignored him, going about organizing my things for my classes.

“…That’s just a bonus.”

“Both Tess and Sylvia, insisted….So, you see I had no choice, really. I’m the one who looks young enough to fit in here.”

“Sure.” I said, watching all of the girls. Some glaring at me. Others staring at him. “You’re fitting in wonderfully.”

“I’m Clara.” Clar’ said, stepping forward. “And you’re gorgeous.”

He looked up at her briefly and then back to me.. “Another one of your charges, I presume?”

“Why don’t you ask her? She speaks for herself just fine….” I made a step to go to class and he side-stepped, blocking me.

“Move.” I said, shoving him out of my way.

I could hear him chuckling behind me.

“…I could be her charge, if you’d like…” I heard Clara say.

****

He sat next to me in study hall and I could hear the whispers all around…

He leaned in and whispered “They all wish they could be either one of us…”

“You see? We match.”

“The only match for you is your own reflection.”

I moved to another chair.

He followed. “I could reach right in and touch the most private part of you, if I wished…”

“You mean that borderline mental-rape, shit you pulled on me, before? Trust me, that’s really not enduring you to me.”

“You’ll come around…when you realize you can’t deal with certain limits of his human-ness.”

Of course, I knew what he was referring to. Our strength. We’re built for preying on humans not…the other thing. It would be next to impossible for my connection with Will to go into anything really physical.

Heck, I was having enough trouble with just barely touching the guy, with his unique…attraction.

I moved again. He made another move to follow me, but I flashed him my best evil-eye, before I went back to my studies. He stayed where he was, this time.

****

Will sat next to me at lunch. He knew it was tough on me, but he didn’t want Stephen anywhere near me.

We couldn’t really talk about the outside drama around Clara’s friends, so we just contributed to the school chatter.

Kirk talked about his last game…While Nelli, Gail, and Clara too, on the sly, ogled Stephen.

“Holy, shit…That new guy? Has got my name written all over him.”

Nelli said, tossing back her long dark locks. She angled her face and did her best sexy-side pose.

She didn’t even mind that Will and I seemed to be an item now. That was the one and only plus of Stephen attending Shadow.

He sat alone, a sarcastic smirk played across his face, his legs splayed out in front of him.

“Jesus,” I thought. “Act your age.”

We chatted about inconsequential stuff, and I welcomed the break from my problems. Gail was dying to dish about the latest team to be voted off the Dance Team show.

“God, I loved the Old School Lockers” she said. “They had the most girls too.”

The whole table broke up over her attempt to lock her arms.

…And then Stephen had to spoil it.

“May I join you?”

Nelli practically knocked her seat over standing up to usher him to empty one next to her own.

“Please…” She smoothed hair down in the front, her signature flirt move. “I’m Nelli.”

“Stephen.” And he flashed a dazzling grin, that literally made the girl swoon…Ugh.

He sat next to her and made big show of his mock interest. More games.

“So, Stephen…” Will began.

“Are you staying in Shadow long?”

“Well, my family moves alot…but Shadow is a decent place. Nice people.”

He said, looking at Nelli.

“…My mom is working on a local project.”

“And when it’s done, you’ll move on.” Will said, leaning forward a bit.

“…There’s no hurry, of course.” Clara said, then jumped.

Will had pinched her arm.

“Maybe. There are other projects.” he said, smoothly glancing my way.

The rest of lunch was a tense event. I would have to have a serious talk with Tess when I got back. I just didn’t know if I could deal with this for much longer before I gave us all away, by kicking his ass in school.

****

Will offered to drive me home that day and I happily obliged him. It was one way for him to feel as needed, as he truly was by me.

I slammed his door and apologized, shaking my head disgustedly. I hadn’t meant to… He was lucky I hadn’t shaken the door off it’s hinges. I was relieved the day was over, but I braced myself for more like it.

“I’m happy to see it pisses you off, just as much as me that he’s at Shadow High.” He smiled.

“…Maybe more.” I whispered under my breath.

He rolled his lips and trained his light-blue eyes on me.

“Ibis. …We do sort have a thing, now, right?”

“Yeah. I’d say so.”

“Then will you level with me? And tell me what’s up with you two?”

I took a deep breath. He did deserve to know. “…A few weeks ago, I had a waking dream.”

He gave me a confused look.

“-No, we don’t sleep…but this was as close I’ve gotten to it.”

“In my dream he was there…Trying. Trying to seduce me.”

“Trying.”

“More like, plying me for when he arrived….As you can see, it didn’t work.”

“I’d ask what he did, but I don’t think I’d really want to know the answer to that.”

He slid his hand through the front of his side-swept locks.

“Nothing major…Just whispers, cliched movie shit.”

He laughed.

“It fits with the rest of him.”

“Yeah, he thinks he’s Kiefer Sutherland.” We both laughed.

He made a right turn.

“…Do you think you can trust them?” he asked, as casually as he could manage.

“I trust Tess.” I said.

“…She trusts Sylvia…As for her friends?” I sighed “-She trusts Sylvia.”

I unconsciously began to pick my teeth…Will started to reach over to take my hand, but paused mid-motion.

“This is gonna be hard.” He said. “I need to touch you.”

“You can.” I said.

“You just have to warn me first, so I can…”

“Brace yourself? I’d rather you wanted me to.”

“No, Will.” I said, genuinely hurt that he would think that.

“So, I can prepare to pull back the hunger and enjoy your touch…I do want you to touch me. We wouldn’t be together, despite all of this, if I didn’t.”

I trained my eyes on him, hoping I was getting through.

“…Believe that.”

“Stephen can, whenever he wants…Whether you like it or no-”

I put my hand on forehead frustrated. “Haven’t you been listening? He’s an ass! He won’t be touching any part of me.”

“Unless he forces his way in…Through your dreams.”

“I’m prepared for him, now. It won’t happen.” I said with a finality that let him know I was done talking about it.

****

After he dropped me off, I made a point of coming around to his side of his truck. I leaned in through his opened window, closing my eyes…He froze.

I brushed my lips against his cheek. The ache was excruciating, but it was worth it.

…Just for the look on his face.

****

Tess was waiting for me at the door. I could see Sylvia inside.

I stepped in through the threshold and sat down.

“The others will be here, soon, but I wanted to speak to you alone.” Sylvia said.

Her straight black hair hung in long shiny curtains down past her small breasts. It seemed to halve her petite size.

“…I know you’ve been having some issues with Stephen. But you must understand. He won’t harm you. He can be a jerk, but he’s not evil. I promise. He will only protect you and your friends from now on.”

“Did you know he preys on girls of his kind?”

“Yes.” she said smiling… “…But the others didn’t see it that way.” She said, raising an eyebrow.

“You spurning him, is probably not helping your cause…He’s never gotten that.”

I folded my arms across my chest.

“Well, now is as good a time as any.”

“I agree. But you must understand this.-”

…She said, leaning forward.

“-He’s lonely. He’s been in my group for just over a hundred years. Before that he roamed alone for fifty. He’s not found anyone to be with. No mate. No one. I know him, well…He’s as close as I have to a son.”

She frowned seriously.

“His gift is seduction. He’s only using it to obtain a poor substitute for true companionship.”

She tipped her head back allowing a few strands to slide past her shoulders, down her back.

I shook my spiky head.

“He gets no pity from me for that…I too have been alone, in that fashion. I’ve never felt wanting enough to take from those who have not given.”

Sylvia seemed to look at me in a new way.

“I can see why he wants you, so…And perhaps, not just in the way he normally does. Though he doesn’t know it, yet.”

I looked away at that.

“It’s all show. When you get beyond it, you’ll see why I’ve taken him on.”

“I’d rather not.”

Sylvia smiled. “No matter. …You will.”

****

Tess disappeared and the front door opened. Holt and Stephen came into our front room and sat down.

Tess politely offered them synthetic which they turned down.

Holt crossed a great muscular arm over Sylvia’s small shoulders, while Stephen made a point of sitting in the chair furthest from me.

He still looked smug, but confusion radiated from him. He truly didn’t know how to deal with a female of his kind rejecting him.

Perhaps, we’re all lonely… For our long lives, it seems unnatural for us to be alone in it.

…Unless we’re lucky enough to find that love bond. Our sensitivities would make us much more receptive when it comes to that. We know the real thing when we come across it.

Tess never spoke of Lawrence, but she must have loved him. We did it take to shatter that bond?…A whole century. They even sought to take on another together, like myself.

I watched Tess, fascinated. She’d shown so little emotion since her initial discovery of Lawrence’s demise.

*****

“Are we certain it is one of our own?” Sylvia asked.

“I neither felt nor smelled any but yourselves and none at the time of his death. The place where I found him should have at least had a residue…” Tess replied.

“…Not since the old days, have humans hunted us. Even then they rarely succeeded. Only the very old or the very young bested by them. Burned, beheaded with special metals, …the art of making, long since lost.”

She lowered her head.

“His murderer was careful. There was an attempt to cover it up…but he had been beheaded.”

Tess said quietly.

Sylvia turned to her group and an understanding passed among them. So, it’s not just Tess and I. When we live together for extended periods of time, we become sensitive to unspoken communications.

“There have been rumors…” Sylvia began. “A boogie-man story. None truly believed.”

She shook her lustrous locks. “There is a hunter among us. One who hates their own kind.”

“Would we not sense their activities?” Holt supplied. This was the first time I’d heard him speak. His voice was a deep clear timber…He could have a career narrating, which if he’d had time, he no doubt had.

Tess spoke up. “We have many talents. Cloaking is one of them.” She said, frowning.

“What does that mean in our search?” Stephen said, leaning forward.

It means we should never leave each other’s senses, never go more than a heartbeat away from each other. It means we should not just look for smell but any unnatural movements, tints on the eyes and skin…This person could have any number of disguises at his disposal.

Lucky, for us a heartbeat is further away than you’d think. Will suddenly jumped to mind and then Clara.

“Do you think this traitor would have interest in harming humans?..”

Sylvia frowned. “I don’t know. It is so rare for us to have any dealings with them…and your…relationship is practically unheard of.”

“It is not natural. You aren’t even able to consummate such a thing.” She said, frowning. Stephen shifted in his chair.

“There is but one solution.” She’d vocalized what I’m sure Tess herself had been thinking, as well as Stephen. They all looked at me expectantly.

“No. NO.” I said more emphatically.

“It is the natural progression…What we must do.” Tess said, her eyes pleading.

“But he may not survive….I can’t chance that.”

She let the subject drop. It should not have come up.

Tess sighed. “Nonetheless…we must continue to keep our eyes open. Expect anything.”

****

As I lay in my bunk that night, my mind traveled more then usual…I needed to see Will.

I slipped out of my bed…barefoot, wearing my favorite yoga pants, and a thin tank-top. I decided to check on him.

It was frighteningly easy to get into his room. I slipped in through an open window, stealthy as a cat, light as a feather.

He stirred in his sleep. And sat up rubbing his eyes…

He should not have heard me.

“Ibis?”

I crept forward in the moonlight.

“You didn’t hear me.”

“No…I just…felt you.”

The humans have a saying. A belief in the ability to “feel eyes on the back of their heads.”

What they don’t know is a few can actually do this. It is a part of what they would call a sixth sense. Apparently, Will has it. If I were to…but it’s best not to think on that.

“How are you feeling?” He asked.

“Frightened. We believe one of our own is responsible, that he has the ability to disguise himself from us.”

“So you came to check on me…” He said, rapidly blinking the sleep from his heavy eyes.

“Will you stay?”

It was a such a nakedly open question, like I held a tiny piece of his heart in my hands and I had but to say ‘no’ to crush it.

“Of course.”

I stepped forward.

“Do you…I mean can you?”

“You want me to lay with you?” I said completing his thought, a small smile playing on my lips.

“Yes.. I mean, nothing else. I just want to be close to you.”

I was exceedingly gratefully for the copious amounts of synthetic I’d taken that evening with Sylvia’s group.

“I think, I can handle it tonight.”

“I thought so…” He said. “Your eyes…They’re lighter.”

He watched me, fascinated.

I crept to the side of his bed and sat down.

“Will. You know, I have to leave before dawn…” I said.

Not that the sun could ever harm us. But it would make us more conspicuous. Even as quick as we are, I’d go by like a signal flash, in full sunlight. And though full sunlight, was rare here…I couldn’t chance it.

“Yeah, I know…but I’ve been worried about you…I think I’ll actually get some real sleep with you here.”

I felt a warmth within at the thought that his concern for me, had kept him awake.

I lay back on top of his comforter and turned over…my back to him.

I whispered. “You can hold me, if you like, I’m probably too cold-”

“Not for me.”

His movements were tentative. He wanted to make sure I could indeed handle it.

He slipped a hand over my hip and I felt his warmth close behind me…all along the back of my body. His breath at my neck.

After a time, he let out a held breath…He relaxed against me and fell asleep.

For me, though, the whole night was a battle in my head between bliss and instinct.

eight

As first light began to break the sky, I moved.Will gently gripped my waist in his sleep, but I easily slipped from his grasp.I stood for a moment watching him, his arm laying across the spot I no longer was and a deep ache went through me.

I was conflicted. The first one to touch me in this way and he’s a human my body desperately wants to consume.

Of course, there was a solution for that, but…To take him away from his life, his parents, his sister…

Mine were gone when Tess turned me.

I couldn’t do that to him.

At least Stephen had left me me alone…No more waking dreams to bother me.

But I still had to worry about this killer of our kind… Possibly a threat to me and mine.

“Why?” I thought.

I slipped out into the dawn and headed back to the house, practically flying, I moved so fast.

When I got there, Tess was up waiting for me.

“I think you may be in love.” She said, as she sat in the easy chair, a knowing smile playing on her lips…

I sighed “I think you’re right.” I said after a moment’s thought, completely at ease with the notion.

“You’ll eventually have to turn him…or perhaps I will. You’ll likely kill the poor boy.”

I couldn’t have been less amused.

*****

I drove to school the next day, looking forward to seeing Will and Clara…but something was different.

I smelled someone new…Another like myself, and not one I had already met.

He was rapidly heading straight for my vehicle. I swerved but so did he.

He collided into my truck, causing me to skid off the road onto the desert sand.

The passenger side concaved deeply inward, with sound of bending metal.

The door flew off of it’s hinges and I was roughly taken from my seat.

And then something I hadn’t felt since I was turned…Pain.

His hand was at my neck and I finally got a look at him.

Long wavy brown hair, piercing black eyes, a black suit. He held me aloft by one hand, his fingers completely wrapped around my throat until they overlapped, I was so tiny compared to his towering figure.

“You should not exist. None of us. Made to prey on flesh…” he began to squeeze.

I gripped his thumb and pulled back, causing him to drop me to the ground…and then I tried to run. He caught me easily, his arm across my upper chest.

His husky voice was at my ear.

“Sinner. We’re all sinners. We all should die.”

Something knocked him away. Stephen.

They tumbled, fought fiercely…I joined him, though my throat felt like it was on fire.

He got to his feet and looked at both of us

“Another time…” He said and was gone.

We couldn’t track him. It was as if he’d simply dissapeared.

At least now we were sure of his gift, one that had allowed him to escape our earlier detection.

Stephen turned to me and gently angled my chin up with his hand, frowning.

“He could have twisted your head off…but it already looks better.”

“Tess has said, that’s my gift. I heal quicker than most of us.”

I turned to my truck and retrieved my cellphone.

Stephen stood and watched me as if he wanted to say more.

“Thank you.” I said. “I would have been killed were it not for you.”

“You know I couldn’t have that.” His eyes were trying to hold my own…succeeding for a few seconds. Asshole or not, he had saved me. He was so beautiful.

I looked away.

He nodded, another smug look creeping up into his face.

“About your human-” he said, erasing that little bit of earned goodwill.

“-I’m not talking about him with you. I need to call Tess.” I said cutting him off.

I flipped open my phone and called.

“I think Stephen and I found your killer.”

*****

Tess insisted that I continue on to school. The crowd and Tess’ keen eyes meant I was better protected than I would be at home.

When I got there, of course I told Will and Clara.

Finally, I felt fear from her.

“He did that to you?” she whispered as we walked to lunch, her eyes narrowing at the fading blue fingershaped marks on my neck.

They were slight, but visible. It was fortunate I wore a high collared shirt, that day. Will held my hand, every fiber of his being giving off helplessness and fear for me… At least I was getting better at pushing back the hunger.

“You’ve got to stay close to the others. I mean it.” He said. “Don’t go off alone, ever…Even if it means you have to go with him.” He said indicating Stephen, who was currently watching us…Watching me, if you want to be specific.

Nellie spotted us whispering intensely in the hall and jogged up.

“Hey what’s going on? You all look like you’re conspiring without me.” Nellie said forcing a chuckle.

I didn’t need to read her emotions to know she was feeling left out and slightly paranoid that we were somehow talking about her…

Narcissitic, but good for her. The more left out she was, the safer she would be.

*****

After school let out, Stephen approached me.

“Sylvia and your Tess want me to take you home.”

“Fine.” I said curtly and passed him, heading to his newly acquired vehicle, a white Honda Civic.

The interior felt too closed. Too close to him. I didn’t like it.

He pulled off and switched on the radio. Some deep-voiced dj was reading the news. Neither one of us paid attention.

He licked his lips. “…I don’t know how to be around you without angering you.”

“-How about you just not talk to me.”

He frowned and gripped his steering wheel tighter, his eyes returning to the road.

Stephen had never been so intrigued by a female. I challenged him. Beyond beautiful…perfect for him, he thought.

And here I was wasting my time in a chaste relationship with a human.

Whatever it took, he’d somehow convince me…

“Do you smell him?” I asked breaking into his thought.

“Yes.” he said slightly alarmed.

“There.” I said. Way beyond human eyes, up on the peak of one of the cliffs that had caused the town’s namesake, stood the killer.

His face was cracked open in the most chilling smile I had ever seen. His eyes on my own.

“He’s not coming down…He just wants us to know he could.” Stephen said. “He’s taunting us.”

“…Let’s just get you home.”

*****

When I got there, everyone was already there…Including Will but someone else was missing.

Where was Clara?

Distress, panic…It radiated from him.

“What’s wrong?”

“He took my sister.”

*****

We couldn’t track her.

He held all the cards.

Everyone looked tense and weary, especially Will. Of course, he hadn’t been able to tell his parents. Tess called and told them she was spending the night with me.

“I’m so sorry…” I said, distraught.

“If you didn’t know me. None of this would have happened.” I said.

“Don’t blame yourself. I was the one who was there…” His eyes went back to it.

“It was like fighting a wall. He didn’t flinch. He could have killed me easily, but he just took her.”

He lowered his head into his hands.

Tess stood next to the phone her arms folded across her chest.

“He’s only using her to get to us. She’s alive and will remain so, at least until he’s gotten what he wants.”

Tess said.

“Yes.” Sylvia said, frowning.

The sound of the phone ring cut into the heavy silence.

Tess answered.

“The girl is unharmed. I have no interest in humans, just those who prey upon them.” His voice was level, but beneath there was menace.

“Your consort was easily dispathed. It’s your turn now…Come alone to this location…”

He was blocking us again, cloaking himself.

“Who are you? Why are you doing this?”

“Thaddeaus of Severne.” He said. “Now be good little creatures and do your research.”

-click-

Sylvia had gone white. “I know him…of him at least.”

She stepped forward.

“Lawrence told me that when he was first turned, his group had little regard for human life. He and five others ravaged a monastary.”

“Jesus.” Will said.

“Everyone was wiped out…It happened during the black plague. With the death-rate so massive, the attack was easily covered with fire. It was the common practice to prevent the disease from spreading.”

She looked up at Tess.

“Thaddeaus was there, the only survivor…Lawrence’s conscience allowed him to escape, despite his injury.”

“He was the one who?..”

“Yes.”

“That metal, the humans have forgotten how to make? He used it on Lawrence’s eye.”

Tess couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy that Lawrence had shared so much with her.

She sighed.

“I have to go to him” Tess said.

“No.” I said, but they ignored me.

“…Well then, we’ll have to follow you… just out of range…”

“-No. He’ll kill her if you do.” Tess looked at me, her expression strained with emotion.

She was saying goodbye.

“-You can’t.” I ran to her, feeling more childlike and desperate than I ever had.

“Shhh… Sylvia and the others will take care of you.”

I threw myself into her arms. “I can’t let you go. You’re everything to me Tess… my mother.”

She held me tight for a long while and kissed the top of my head. Then she released me and turned towards her room.

“I have to prepare.” Her voice wavered with unshed tears.


nine

Clara sat in the dank cellar while Thaddeaus paced across the other side of the it.”Please, don’t do this…Tess is a good person.””-See, that’s where you’re wrong.” Thaddeaus said.“She’s not a person and neither am I. We are abominations, we who feast on humans. It’s what we were made for, to be demons.”

“You’re crazy.” She said quietly.

He shook like junkie in the low light.

His eyes were so black now, they reflected nothing. He slowly walked towards her.

“…You child…I should not have taken. I had planned to take the boy, but you tempt me too much.”

*****

I didn’t recognize it at first, that deep instinctual need. Later in the day however, with everyone weary in the kitchen trying to figure out some other course, I realized…He wanted her like I wanted Will.

She would not survive this, even when he got Tess. They both would be lost to us and we’d still be here twiddling our fingers.

Tess had only been gone five minutes. We could track her. She was still in range..

“He’s not going to let her go.” I said, shaking my head and I told them.

“Even if we don’t follow he’ll kill them both. I think we might even be able to track her without him knowing.”

“How?” Sylvia asked.

“I know what it is to push the need back. It’s distracting. I think we have no choice but to chance it.”

Sylvia looked at me for a moment and then looked up at Holt. “No.”

“NO?!” I was incredulous. “How can you not?”

“Because we can’t take the chance that he’ll kill them both, right away.”

“So, what you’re just going to let him take Tess???”

“-That was her decision.”

“Look…If you have some kind of rivalry over Lawrence? Guess what? He’s dead! And my mother’s in danger.”

Strange how comfortable that word had gotten, now.

“My mind is firm…From what I know of Tess, she won’t just go as a lamb to the slaughter. I think this Thad may have gotten in over his head with this kill.”

*****

Tess moved as quickly as she could, back to the spot where she found Lawrence. She remembered an odd smell there. Something she could not identify. She had picked up the source of it but didn’t connect the dots until just now.

Once there, she found it again. A small charred dagger. Lawrence must not have had time to even draw it.

He would not have brought it unless. “…The metal.” She said, aloud.

*****

It took some stealth, but I managed to get Stephen’s attention with my eyes and lure him into the kitchen.

It was risky, but I thought I’d chance some nonverbal communication. He was the only other one of them for which I had some measure of control and he had been in my mind before. I hoped we were close enough for this to work.

I sat at the kitchen island and sipped synthetic next to him…but Will passed through the kitchen on the way to our bathroom, giving Stephen a suspicious look. His senses were keen.

“We have to go after Tess.” I tried.

He continued to sip but flitted his eyes over at me briefly. Perhaps surprised that I could do this so soon after meeting him.

“Too dangerous.”

“Please. I can’t just let her die. Please, Stephen.”

He frowned into his drink and sighed.

“If we go…we have to do it right away.” He said, without speaking.

“…I’m doing this for you…You know that. I’m allowing you to use me.”

“Yes. I know.”

Will appeared at the kitchen door and looked at us both, catching us in communicative gaze that did look rather intimate.

“They’ll follow soon afterwards and you’ll have your wish.” He said without speaking, challenging Will with his eyes.

He looked at me like I’d betrayed him and started to head back into the main room.

“Will. Wait…-I. Just stop for a minute!”

He couldn’t speak back of course, but he could hear me.

“We’re going after Tess.”

I turned to leave with Stephen but he caught my arm. So much passed in that look.

“She’s my sister.” He said squeezing tighter. …And I was important to him, too.

He was smart. He’d wanted to come along, but he knew he could be used against all of us, like Clara.

Stephen and I left through the backdoor at breakneck speed…At this range? Only Stephen could still track her.

*****

We moved swiftly through the brush until we were close. They were in Arizona. In the full bright light of day. We looked like two fast-moving flickers to any passing planes as we went.

Like UFOs.

When we finally reached the cellar where she was being held, we realized we had arrived at almost the same time as Tess.

He held her by the neck… And there was something else, the bright coppery smell of fresh blood.

“Three birds. One stone.” He said, grinning.

“Come forward, slowly.” He said his face turning serious.

“…It is a good thing you’ve arrived. I could no longer use the girl to draw you. I might have had to take the boy.”

Clara lay writhing on the ground…in immense pain. Thad had bitten her.

“Had Tess arrived a moment later, I would have finished her. I still may. I’m owed that after these many years.” He said adjusting his grip.

Tess moved too quickly to see.

One moment she there, the next she had cut Thad across his chest. The sparring began.

“You’ve found the metal!” He said, laughing. “No matter. God is on my side…And here I was thinking it was my own, I smelled.” He said drawing a much larger and nastier looking dagger. The jagged blade was etched with crosses.

We attacked at the same time from different points thinking to confuse him…but he only went after me.

He sunk the dagger into my chest, all the way to the hilt, where my no longer beating heart would be, until it came out of my back.

Any other weapon, and I simply would have discarded it…But this metal.

I gasped and fell over.

“Ibis!” Stephen’s voice came as if from underwater. But I could hear the tussle.

“I’ve done my work!! God will find another to finish you al-!!” There was a sickening crack and I knew he was dead.

But I was…I was dying. I could feel myself slipping away.

“Stephen…You know what to do. QUICKLY!” Tess said.

He nodded and was gone. And Tess was gone too. She was still in the room. I could smell her but she had left my side.

*****

“Your sister will be fine…but you need to help Ibis.”

“-I know.” He cut her off.

“When we remove the dagger, you have to do it immediately…”

I felt his neck…his tempting artery next to my lips. ” no…” I could barely speak.

“You have to, Ibis. You’ll die.” He said softly.

I’d rather have died… but he was too close. And I was too weak. God, he smelled delicious. I parted my lips and fastened onto his neck, he gasped at the immediate pain. My venom worked quickly.

I felt his hand grip my back, urging me on. He needn’t have…Tess was right.

I would kill him. He tasted too good. My whole body hummed with it.

*****

I felt someone pull me away and Will fell over like a stone.

“That’s enough!” Tess had been saying it to me, but I’d ignored her.

“Will you be able to keep him from turning?” Sylvia asked, again from far away.

“I don’t know. She may have taken too much…”

“I don’t understand why you won’t just…”

“-Because it’s what my daughter wants.” Tess said.

*****

When I was fully aware…I was on my sofa.

Tess sat next to me and Stephen too but…

“Where’s Will?” I sat up, alarmed.

“In your room, sleeping.” Tess said.

“…Is he?”

She looked at Stephen. “We don’t know yet.”

I was stricken. “You shouldn’t have brought him.”

“We had no choice. Your body craved his for reason, Ibis. His blood is suited for you. In your state any other human’s blood might not have saved you.”

“…And Clara?”

“She’s in my room. Her body seems to be free from Thad’s venom.”

“What happened?”

They explained that the metal Thad had used on me should have killed me immediately, but for my gift…but I still needed human blood to heal.

The only one for whom it would not have had to be taken forcibly was Will’s. Will who had volunteered to exchange his life for my own.

Tess had saved Clara. I knew how. She was old enough to be able to control the flow of her venom. She simply removed what was already there.

She’d interrupted before Thad had done any real damage, but in my case…I had needed more blood in my condition.

“I need to see him.”

“No, you’re not fully recovered yet…” I pushed through and entered my room.

He was pale, ashen…He looked like he was having the worst nightmare of his life. I sat next to him and held his hand. It was very cold.

“He’s…”

“-He may still be alright. At this point he should be much further along.”

But I could see she didn’t really believe that. Would he forgive me?

ten

It had only been five hours since this whole mess began, but it felt so much later.We were creeping up on the threshold of having to bring Clara and Will’s parents into this.Will wasn’t improving. Clara had joined me in my vigil next to him.

Clara gave me the most disgusted look, she could muster.

“…How could you?” She said. “…What are we going to tell mom and dad?”

“Clara…You know, I had no choice.” She looked away, shaking her head.

“He’s not dead and he won’t be for a long time and I have to live with it.”

I shook my head.

“…. But there was nothing I could do to prevent it. I feel like dying every time I think about it. I am so sorry.”

She looked down. “…I know…but it doesn’t change anything.” She began to cry.

Tess had come in. “Come on let’s get you something to eat.” She lead her away.

Stephen gently rapped on the ajar door.

“What do you want.”

“He chose this, you know…He was perfectly aware of the fact that chances were he’d either die or end up like this.”

“He’s a brave kid.” he said seriously. “I can see why you like him.”

“…Why I love him.” I corrected.

“Love him.” he repeated.

If we could cry, I would have. Stephen looked like he wanted to offer comfort, but he knew I wouldn’t accept it.

Suddenly things changed…

Will took a breath. Something we don’t do.

He was breathing.

I sat forward and took his hand in mine. It was getting warm.

“Tess.” And she was there. …Along with Sylvia and Holt.

“This is…unprecedented.” Sylvia said. “He’s healing…back into his humanity.”

Tess frowned and looked at me, like I was some newly discovered thing.

“…You heal.”

I laughed, I was so happy. I could definitely feel the heat creeping back into his hand.

Will began to stir. “Uhhh…”

“Ibis.” he said. He was still pale and groggy but he was definitely, still human.

“You’re alive.” He said, smiling.

“Because of you.” I said and brought his hand to my lips. His blood was so thin I could scarcely sense it’s intoxicating power over me. I used that window for all it was worth.

I leaned forward and carefully, kissed him.

After I sat back up, Clara burst into the room.

“Will! Will!” She was so happy to see him awake and looking like himself she wrenched him up into a hug, much to his great discomfort…

That neck-wound I’d given him was still a painful-looking mottled bruise-color. It looked like a glorified hickey with bite marks.

He groaned at having to move it.

“I’m sorry, Ibis.” She said.

I shook my head. “I’d have done the same. We’re still copacetic.”

She shook her head back in affirmation.

*****

Teens are good at keeping things from parents who keep them on a loose leash, like Clara and Will’s did.

They both got home really late, but they kept their grades up and for the most part stayed out of trouble. They acted like nothing had transpired that night and they weren’t questioned.

The next day was Friday. And there were new signs plastered all over school. It was another Homecoming, my fourteenth.

…Well, the fourteenth I’d seen announced. I never gone to any of those things. Too many nervous, sweaty, frightened kids asking me.

So, when Will approached me in hallway between classes and casually assumed I was going…

“What time should I pick you up?”

I was literally speechless.

…Or that could have been his smell…I had hoped, that since I’d bitten him, he’d be less tempting to me, but just the opposite happened.

I remembered the taste of him and I found myself craving it all the more for it. I was an addict.

He looked at me expectantly.

“…Uh, for what exactly?” I said.

“Homecoming.” And he smiled that gentle bright smile of his.

“I don’t…I mean, I’ve never been to that sort of function.”

He laughed. “I figured.” he said, looking at me in a knowing way that made me feel like my soul was exposed to him.

“…Then it’s time you go.”

*****

“Oh, my God! You’ve never been to a dance before?!” Clara shrieked.

She was now infected with that most contagious of feminine diseases, make-over madness.

Having recruited Nelli and Gail to be her minions, she was careful to only insert herself in the position to touch, afraid they’d see how different I felt. Deceptively resilient, but “smooth as polished stone”, as Will would say.

They dragged me to a local boutique after school. After having picked out their own gowns for the event, they set about dressing me.

The owner, a pretty round-bodied native American woman, for whom the place was named, Samaria was helpful and very knowledgeable about fashion and what flattered individual women’s features best.

I was the perfect specimen for her to play with. Beautiful, but yet to fully ebrace that. She was determined to bring it out to it’s fullest.

She brought out a whole rack of her favorite gowns and by their instruction, I tried each one for them to evaluate.

It. Was. Hell.

Clara knew and was enjoying the hell out of it.

…Though, I do have to admit. When we did finally settle on that perfect gown, I was pretty awestruck myself.

It was gorgeous and feminine, but somehow still me. It was a deep emerald green version of the chic little black Audrey Hepburn dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Slinky, but still modest and elegant.

“You look…Wow.” Clara said pleased with her handiwork.

*****

The night arrived and I had no idea what to do with my hair…I eventually settled on slicking it all back with water and gel…

It actually looked pretty nice.

One thing I did know how to do was the smoky eye. So, I did that and applied a light pink gloss to my lips.

Even Tess was pleased with the results.

“So.” She said, teasing. “I did save a little girl.”

“The whole school will be dazzled blind” she sighed. “…but you deserve this.”

She kissed my forehead.

*****

When Will arrived to pick me up, he looked at me so strangely, I thought I had something on my dress.

Then he blinked at me and said… “No one, will be able to look at anything all night, except you.”

Hundreds, maybe thousands of compliments in my lifetime and this was the first to truly affect me.

I had so much synthetic earlier in the evening my eyes were a nice amber hue. Still, they darkened a bit when I got around Will.

He swept his hand through his hair and angled his neck. His mark was almost completely faded. In truth, I was almost sorry to see that, despite his close call. It had been my mark.

Will took my hand and walked with me to the waiting limo.

Tess. Of all people, she made us wait so she could get pictures before we left.

Clara looked stunning in her blush-colored mini-dress and Kirk of course, had to be knocked around a few times by her when he was caught staring at me.

We pulled up to Bresner Hall. It was the largest space in town used for every formal function, imaginable, including ours.

When we arrived, I tried to blend in with the group we came with, but many whispers and eyes did follow me, including Stephen’s…

“What is he doing here?”

That was my second thought.

My first thought, wasn’t really a thought so much as a jolt. I couldn’t help it. He was the best-looking creature in the room.

Will squeezed my hand and pulled me closer to himself possessively, when he noticed him.

It was a classy affair, old classics spun along with new hits and we even danced. Will, as always, was amazed at how agile and light on my feet I was despite my hardness and strength.

I leaned my head on his chest and listened to his heart. It helped to focus on something other than the throbbing in my throat.

I chanced asking him something I had been dreading talking about for a while…

“Will.” I said.

“Would you have hated me, if you’d turned?”

“Ibis.” He said, if he were shocked I could even ask. “…No. Never. I knew chances were I’d die or be like you.”

“…but your parents, your life. You shouldn’t be so reckless with it.”

“My parents, my life, my choice Ibis. Saving you, maybe being able to be with you. It was worth it. I’d do it again, right now. Don’t you know by now how much I love you?”

He leaned in close to my ear and his neck was close to my lips again…Tormenting me.

“You could take what you want now and I’d die happy…” He laughed a bit nervously.

“One day…I want to. So, I can be with you Ibis.” I put my trembling hands on his shoulders and nudged him away.

He didn’t understand. He wasn’t one of us, so how could he?

I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t. I just danced on in silence.

*****

I had gone to the buffet table to fetch drinks for my friends, when Stephen finally approached me.

“You leave me breathless.” he said.

“That’s because you don’t breathe, Stephen.” I said.

“Thanks, for reminding me.”

“Why are you still in Shadow?” I said. “We got him. You don’t have to stay.”

“Sylvia likes it here…We were coming anyway, so you’ll just have to get used to me being around.”

… “Why?” he said, that smug grin ticking at the corners of his mouth, again. “Do I make you uncomfortable?”

“No.” I lied. He leaned in closer.

Then dance with me. “No.” I said.

“Because I DO make you uncomfortable.”

“…Because I’m here with Will.” I said.

“What’s a dance between friends? You love him. He loves you. What do you have to worry about?”

“I’m not worried.”

Stephen simply raised a challenging eyebrow and offered his hand….

Stupidly, against my better judgment, I took it.

And he immediately swept me in too close…My body was practically flush with his.

“Ibis.” He said.

“I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as you are right now.”

“Thanks.” I said, trying to avoid his penetrating gaze. ‘A Song for You’ began to play.

I’d loved seeing Donny Hathaway live with Tess when he was still alive. This song was special to me. I’d have rather been dancing this with Will.

His hand rested on the back of my hip and he gently caressed me there, pulling me closer. I didn’t like how that made me felt, but I couldn’t make myself move away.

I chanced looking up at him and he was looking right back at me with a look I had grown familiar with.

He leaned in and I pushed him away.

“Okay…” I said. “I’m done.”

I walked away completely flustered.

…And Will had seen the whole thing.


eleven
I went to the ladies room to recover myself. We use everything we take in, so I had no need to use it, in the human way. I simply touched up my gloss.Clara followed me.“Okay, Ibis, what the hell is going on?!”

The few girls in the restroom, looked at us like they were keen on seeing something go down. They shuffled out quickly, after Clara shot them a warning look.

“We’re friends, but I will not stand by and watch you hurt my brother.”

I sighed. “There’s nothing going on…” I said, but I couldn’t meet her eyes.

“Whatever Ibis. I saw you. You and Stephen could’ve made-out right there on the dancefloor!”

“…but I didn’t.”

It took some effort, but I turned to look at her.

“Look. I’m not going to deny I do feel attracted to him. He is gorgeous. Shit, you practically fall all over him yourself. I am still a female, after all… but it’ll pass.”

“You really think that.” Clara stood back on her heels and folded her arms across her chest.

I turned away.

“Look at me, Ibis.” I managed to meet her eyes, again.

“Promise me, you won’t hurt my brother.” She said, quietly.

More giggling girls spilled in, chatting excitedly about their dates… I said nothing.

“You need to tell him. Though, I’m sure he already knows…”

Clara strided out of the bathroom, shaking her head dismissively.

“Clara!”

I went out behind her and spotted Will watching me. Everything was clear in his eyes.

I walked over to him.

“Will I-”

“-Not now.” he said. And the tone of his voice killed me. Not the anger. That, I could’ve handled, but the resignation. As if he was certain of the inevitability of my getting together with Stephen.

He took my hand and lead me onto the floor. We silently swayed to the music.

The rest of the night passed surrounded by our group. They chatted about inconsequential things while we mostly pretended to be involved with it. I did eventually relax again, but the shadow still loomed over us.

Stephen.

It didn’t help that he kept looking at me, with those piercing amber eyes of his.

He kept his distance…I knew, it was because of my love for Will.

It had been a magical night until I stupidly, screwed it all up.

****

As the night dragged on, I stepped out into the unusually chilly night air and sat down on a bench in the quad, with Will.

He brushed a hand across my cheek. “I’m going to lose you.”

I stared into his eyes, insistent. “No. I love you, Will.”

“I know you do…but where can this go? If you have your way, I’ll stay human. We’ll never be able to truly be together.”

“Will, you know why I won’t. I can’t let you-”

“That’s my decision…And when the time comes, I’ll make the make the choice.”

“You say that now, because you don’t know. It is magical, at first, the power, the virtual immortality. But then it becomes…something different. That creature. That thing we defeated was right about one thing. We’re supposed to die.”

The silence hung between us.

“It’ll be different. This is what I want. I’ve never been so certain of anything. As long as we’re together, It won’t be like that.”

“But your family…Your life.”

“It will change, but that is a part of it. Right? Things change.”

I sighed, in frustration. He really had no idea. And I couldn’t make him understand.

“Well, I’ll give you one thing. With that conviction of yours, you speak like one of us already…”

He touched my hand, in a way I knew meant he wanted to it bring to his lips…It was too heavy for him to lift. I allowed it. I loved feeling the warmth of his lips…And the way he drew the back of my hand along his jawline.

*****

That Monday, I met Will in the hallway on the way to class. He seemed cheerier than I would have expected, after…My slip.

“Ibis. I have some news for you.” He sucked his lips into his mouth in that special way, I had come to love.

“My parents have heard too much about you. They’ve invited you to dinner, tonight.”

I went even paler than I usually am. Young humans are one thing, but grown-ups? They get suspicious, all too easily. I could hide myself in class, but this?

“I don’t know about this, Will.”

“Don’t worry. Let’s just say, they’re eccentric.”

“Ordinarily I’d be embarrassed, but you’ve definitely out-stranged them.”

I was a little offended. “I’m not that strange. At least, I don’t think I am.”

I twisted my mouth and fumbled at my clothing, a short-sleeved, over-sized Cosby sweater, I’d found in a flea market back in the 80’s. It was so big, I wore it as a dress. I had hated how that gel made my hair feel, very sticky and hard, so I did my hair pretty wildly and free of product today.

He laughed.

“Don’t worry, Ibis. You’re just my kind of strange.” He draped his arm around my shoulders, enveloping me in his delicious smell. I felt dizzy.

*****

I’d wanted to change my clothes after school, but Will insisted they wouldn’t mind.

So I rode on in his truck, nibbling nervously on my nails.

“They really have been dying to meet you. They want to make sure you’re not some figment of my imagination.” he said, his eyes flashing at me.

“I’ve had a few girlfriends…but never this long.”

We had only been together six months, but I reasoned that was probably an eternity for a teen. It should be for me too. I’ve never even done this before, but it felt natural, as if he’d always been there.

I smiled at the thought.

“See? You’re relaxing already.”

****

Will didn’t bother to announce his or my arrival.

He simply opened the door and lead me into the kitchen. There stood a tall, scruffy, spectacled blond man in relaxed khaki shorts. He had the same clear blue eyes, I had come to love on Will.

He was as handsome as I’d expected, but less uptight. Ex-military, ehh?

Will’s father tended a large wok. Tofu and colorful veggies decorated the large black concave space. The heavenly smell of spices eminated from the dish.

“Dad, this is Ibis.”

“Well, hey there.” he said, waving a hand at me. “It’s nice to finally see you. I’m Doug.”

He raised his eyebrows at me slightly. I felt pleasant surprise coming from him. I had a feeling, I was very different from what he’d expected.

“I’d shake your hand, but I’m a stickler for cleanliness around food.”

Okay, not the typical hippie in every way.

Good. I thought, he’d definitely notice the contrast in temperature between that hot wok and my skin.

“Clara and Alice are already in the dining room.” He said, waving us on. “This’ll be done in a minute.”

Will pushed through the double doors of the dining room. The places at the table were casually set.

Clara sat across from the most beautiful human woman I had seen, in a long while. She was darker than I had imagined, definitely had a heritage other than European.

Her skin was a slight golden brown, her cheeks high and sculpted. Her jet black hair, obviously dyed, was held up in a messy bun by a hair stick. Blunt bangs hung across her forehead. Tattoos were visible on her neck and wrists. Her green eyes popped even more against her dark hair. She reminded me of a more mature version of that underwear model…Adriana something?

She wore a loose-fitting flowered sun-dress and no shoes. I noted one more intricate tattoo, winding around her right ankle.

I couldn’t help but grin. Odd, exotic, women apparently weren’t new to this family. I couldn’t believe how normal their kids were in comparison. Then, I realized most kids rebel by being the opposite of the parents. It made perfect sense.

“Ibis.” Her bee-stung lips curved up into the most pure smile. I saw where Will got it.

“Come sit…” She said, beckoning me with graceful flit of her wrist. She had an accent. It was very slight, but still there.

“It is good to meet you.” Her eyes narrowed curiously…She leaned forward in her chair, her eyes scanning me. I saw a flash of something knowing, in her eyes. She nodded and relaxed.

Oh, my God. She knew.


twelve
“So, Ibis, from where do you hail?” She asked, sipping her cinnamon and ginger tea.”Florida.”“Ah.” She said.

“If you don’t mind me asking, where are you from?” I said.

“It’s the accent, right? My American English still isn’t perfect… Egypt.” She said, “Though I’m only half myself, on my father’s side.”

She cocked her head to the side, her eyes narrowing. “You look like you could be from there.”

“We have very beautiful people, there. The true natives, not the Arabs, look a lot like you. Darker, but similar features.”

Now, that I was closer, I could see that many of her tattoos were Egyptian in nature. The small ankh on the back of her neck, in particular, intrigued me.

“That’s the symbol for eternal life, right?”

“Yes.” She said, smiling.

I could also detect a difference, though it was slight, between her smell and other humans I had encountered….She wasn’t one of us, but she definitely wasn’t completely human.

*****

Doug appeared through the double-doors, holding a steaming spread of brown rice and that tofu stir-fry he’d been working on.

“Okay, everyone. Prepare to dig in.”

He set the platter on the table and sat down next to his wife. He leaned over and kissed her. He lingered a bit, smooching a few extra times and looked lovingly into her eyes.

Clara rolled her eyes and shook her head. She spoke barely above a whisper, “You should see them when you’re not here.”

“I heard that.” Doug, said. “It’s natural. Just be glad your parents aren’t showing signs of divorce.”

“Ibis, why don’t you fill your plate first?” Alice was teasing me. Well, wasn’t that something.

I could eat. I just had to throw it up afterwards. And I hate that.

I spooned the food out in such way that it looked like I’d gotten more than I had, spreading the food all over my plate.

Alice chuckled under her breath.

She had a good sense of humor and had everyone in stitches throughout dinner, with her stories.

It turned out she was a botanist, studying population ecology among indigenous peoples.

The tribes, she said, had knowledge about plants that was being lost to industrialization. After one of her colleagues disrespected a mated member of an Amazon tribe she’d been studying with, they put a kind of poison in his food. It made itchy welts raise up on his skin. It wasn’t fatal, but it was damned uncomfortable, until it completely left his system…Two weeks later.

She clapped Doug on his back, when he accidentally sucked some food down the wrong pipe, laughing over that one. Sending him into a coughing-laughing fit.

“You’re really not supposed to do that.” She said, wrinkling her nose, referring to the back clap.

I really liked his parents. They were so very down-to-earth, especially Alice. She watched me and Will closely through-out dinner.

I had to find a way to talk to her, alone.

*****

After dinner was over, which had lingered well over two hours, Alice beckoned me into the kitchen…

“I have something for you.” She said.

She reached up into an uppermost cabinet and pulled down a strange vial of what appeared to be honey…But it smelled much sweeter.

From her window sill she picked up a small potted plant, one unlike any I had never seen before.

She broke off a small stem and pushed it down into the vial. She closed it off and shook it. Then she brought a thin leather strap from her pocket and threaded it through a small loop on the top.

“Here.” She said, tying it on my wrist.

“But what is it?” I asked.

“…Something I learned about, when I was much younger than I am now. Something you want.” She walked forward, her eyes, level. “Trust me.”

She clasped her hands around mine. They were stronger then I would’ve thought, almost a match for my own.

“Drink it on Friday. The change will only last for about a day or so.”

She said, winking.

“What, are you?” I asked, bluntly.

“Hetu.” She said, “But only half.”

She put a hand up before I could speak. “Ask your mother.” She said.

And she turned to leave the kitchen…With the vial closed, it looked like an intricately carved chunk of colored glass…The liquid had turned a deep ruby red. Now, it just looked like an interesting pendant.

“Ooh, that’s pretty, mom.” Clara said, lifting my wrist.

“My mom’s good at making jewelry. She makes a lot of it for the locals.”

So, she didn’t know. And Will didn’t either.

At that moment, I couldn’t wait to get home and find out what a Hetu was.

“That is really nice, Mom.” Will said.

“I can see how much you care for her…” She said, looking at her son. “And I can see she’s a good girl…Not like those others, I heard about.”

“Mom.”

“You come on back, okay? Don’t be a stranger.”

She said, rubbing my arm.

*****

Will lingered on my porch, holding me while I leaned against his chest.

“See? They like you.”

“Yeah. Your parents are really cool.”

“Told you.”

“You don’t have to gloat.” I said nudging him a little bit too roughly.

It would probably leave a bruise.

“I’ll see you, tomorrow, Will.” I said, backing against my door.

He walked down our sandy walkway, the unusually heavy mist swirling around his feet.

He turned one last time to look at me and smile. I watched him drive away and then stepped up into my house.

Tess started… “So, how did it g-…?”

“My God…Who did you meet, over there?” She said, clearly catching the odd scent.

“Hetu.” I said. His mother’s is half…Or so she said. What’s a Hetu??”

“But that can’t be…They only stay with their own. If her son smells human, then that means, she’s with one. That’s forbidden. And she’s half?! How did that even happen?? Was she even imprinted?…” She said, thinking out loud, as if I wasn’t even there.

“Well, that explains both Clara and Will’s resistance to our venom…It wasn’t you.”

She got more and more anxious with each word.

“Dammit, Tess will you please, just tell me what’s going on?”

“Hetu are changelings and mystics…They are quite unique creatures. She was from Northern Africa, wasn’t she?”

I nodded. “She’s half-Egyptian.”

“Wow, I never would’ve guessed…Their father has strong genes.” She said, chuckling.

I watched Tess, impatiently.

“Hetu, have a long history…We believe they are the ones responsible for the werewolf myths. They can, in fact change into many different creatures, not just wolves….They also have an extensive knowledge of our world’s natural magick. Plants, herbs, even types of rock that when mixed can do wonders, the likes of which…are truly incredible.”

She paused.

“I just don’t understand how she can even be here! There are other kinds of shape shifters here as well, but as the oldest group, in the world, the ones in Africa are the most powerful.

When Hetu are born, they are imprinted, marked by their mate to be. Always, another immortal.”

“They don’t get a choice in who they end up with? That’s not right.” I said.

“Well, I agree.” Tess said. “But that’s their way. Apparently, Will’s mother didn’t agree with it, either.”

Tess shook her head. “Wow. They are very secretive people. I’ve only met one in all my years of existence…And here you’ve already met one.”

“Half.” I said.

“I don’t even know how that’s even possible.

“…What’s this?” She said, lifting the dangling vial-charm on my wrist.

“Something Alice, that’s her name, gave me. She said to drink it on Friday.”

Tess frowned a little at that. “Well, it can’t be harmful. Hetu can’t do that. Even if she could, there are laws forbidding them from harming another immortal without cause. We’ve held to a truce for many eons.”

“I wonder what it could be.”

“Well, she told me to tell you what she was. I’d imagine you could probably…Call her and ask?”

“I certainly will.”

*****

I watched her talk on the phone but I strangely, couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation.

“OH.” she said, and smiled back at me.

“What is it?” I asked.

She ignored me and continued the conversation. “Sure. I’ll tell her. It was good talking to you…Sure. Definitely.”

She hung up.

This ignorance was really killing me.

“What?-”

“-Just… do as she says.”

****

Friday couldn’t come fast enough. Yes, I was afraid, despite Tess’ clear calmness about it. It was the unknown. But curiosity easily won out.

I stared at the vial as I rode along in Will’s car…

He still thought it was a simple trinket his mother had given me.

“Are you sure it’s okay, if go home with you?” I said, absently.

“Yeah. Mom and dad took Clara to Bear Lake…It’s a weird parenting thing, they do. They figure it’s healthier if we each get time with them, alone, so one won’t feel favored over the other.”

“Dad and his psychology.” Will said, shaking his head. “It’s not like we care anymore.”

“-But, this is the one time, I appreciate it.” He said.

“It means we’ll have some time alone together.”

****

Will stopped at a gas station. He winced at the numbers on the digital read-out screen. After it stopped…He walked into the gas station…

I looked down at the vial, trying to decide if I should do it now. I realized this may be one of the few times Will would be out of sight… So, I unscrewed to tiny cap, took a deep breath and drank it all down, in one gulp.

It was the sweetest tasting liquid I’d ever had, besides the one I had to have. It was warm, but not like a liquid, like Will’s skin…His heartbeat, his breath on my skin….

Oh, my God.

I touched my face and it too felt warm. It had give. It wasn’t the same smooth, cold stony feel, I was used to.

I wrenched down the visor and stared into the tiny mirror. I gasped. My cheeks flushed pink. I nudged the edge of the mirror with my finger, expecting it to crack, but knowing it would not… I flipped up the visor and sat there, dumbfounded.

I could’ve cried. But I laughed, instead.

*****

I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that she wanted me to be with her son, in that way. As clearly…open-minded as she was. It was still weird.

“I guess she’s a romantic. She would understand a love against all odds. She, who deserted her people so she could marry a human, would want it to work.” I thought.

Who cared why, really? I could be with Will, now…

He got back into the truck, shutting the door, a bit harder than usual.

“I can’t believe how expensive gas is these days…I can’t wait until Bush gets out of-”

I shut him up with a kiss.

He broke it. And looked at me, incredulous.

“Ibis, you’re…warm and soft.”

“How?”

I kissed him again and this time he took over, kissing me deeply, taking the time to really taste me.

“Is this…Permanent?” He said breathless.

“No…” I said shaking my head, in-between kisses.

“Twenty-four hours.”

“Testing the waters, Ibis?”

“I didn’t plan this, if that’s what you’re asking…” It did hit me that this would be exactly what Tess would want. Something to bind us even closer. She did want me to turn him, after all. So, I wouldn’t be lonely anymore.

And Will’s mother…It just boggled my mind. What did she have to gain from this, besides her son’s…?

-Happiness.

*****

As soon as we got through the door, Will practically dragged me to his room.

He held me flush against him and kissed me, his hands wandering all over me like a blind man trying to see me with his hands.

“Are you sure?”

I looked at him like he was crazy and pushed him down to his bed, so he sat on the edge of it.

I nodded vigorously….He slipped his hands under my t-shirt, his hands resting on my hips for a moment… He took a deep breath, then gripped the edges of my shirt, slipping it up over my head…

*****

I lay on my back staring up at his ceiling my mind still abuzz with what just had happened. I’d never felt so clumsy in my life, that first time.

And really, I didn’t think Will had either…It was over far too quickly. But we tried again, later…

That had been, amazing. Not even tasting him, that night had been like this. It was wonderful. A miracle. He turned over in his sleep and draped a hand on my belly, interrupting my thoughts.

His fingers curled…causing that deep twist of pleasure inside me.

I covered his hand with my own and squeezed it. His eyes opened, heavy with sleep. He brought to me to him, his body spooning my own, and we made love again.

*****

The next day we couldn’t stop grinning at each other.

*****

That day went by all too quickly. But we did enjoy each other as much as we could, in that short span of time.

There was one thing, all the way to very back of mind…Why did I know about his mother, while he did not? She had broken their laws. Were her children in danger because of this?

Is this why she didn’t tell them? …Would my being with him, possibly making him like me…Would that protect him?

The questions had been the most logical answers I’d settled on in my mind and it worried me.

thirteen

I left him reluctantly that Sunday morning, before dawn.I was back to myself by then, and truthfully, I was glad. Except for being with Will, I found that I did enjoy the way our state felt.I was strong. I’d never had a physical care. I couldn’t even remember it.

I stood beside his window, my feelings conflicted. I couldn’t go back to what we were, before this.

I held myself; a poor replacement for Will’s gentle embrace. He crept up behind me and circled his arms around my waist.

“You can’t stay longer?” He whispered into my ear.

I let a silence hang between us for awhile, instead of answering. I just couldn’t say ‘no’.

I stood with Will watching the sky begin it’s transition into that familiar blue-black.

As it did, I slipped from his arms and out of his window, soundlessly. I stood on the pebbled sand watching the sections of mist began it’s daily convergence in this magical place.

I had never been so confused in my life. Turning Will…Even his sister, might save them. My heart told me this was probably true. It would not be an entirely selfish act to make them like us.

Alice was a clever woman. I could see why her people had not recovered her.

I did not light across the landscape like I usually did, but took my time, my thoughts chaotic. Even if he wasn’t in danger, I was certain, I would change him after our…It was different now. I just couldn’t be without him. It was beyond our love-making-

Someone was there. Sitting on top of a low rock. There was no absolutely no smell. Anger welled up inside, before I realized it was not Stephen.

Alice sat cross-legged, a serene expression on her face…A long herringbone braid, lay over her shoulder and brushed the top of her right thigh. She wore pajamas with little thin spotted cats all over them. Maus, I assumed. Where in the world did she find that outfit?

Typical Alice, it certainly brought a small level of ridiculousness to the situation.

“Hello, Ibis.”

“Hi.” I said, quietly.

“My children do not know about me for their own protection, but my husband does. I left him this morning to meet you here…And don’t worry, this won’t take long.”

“I’m sure you’ve guessed, but you have my blessing to turn my son. It is what he wants…And, I think you’ve figured out, it is for his protection, as well. My people by law, cannot harm my children if they are immortal. My husband is somewhat protected. Despite my being a female, he has been with me long enough to have a form of imprint, from me.”

…Did your mother explain what that is?”

“Yes. What she knew of it.”

“Barbaric practice. Immortals pretend to stand on a higher moral ground than humans, but females being held back from choice is one of many things we have in common.” She said, disgustedly.

“It is a sacred bond among my people. A marking males do on women, they are meant to be with…I could see a slight one on you the other day, child.”

My eyes widened in shock.

Of course, she wanted to see if he had, if he could do that.

“The only reason, my father could be with my mother, was because he imprinted her, instead of one of his own…Human or not, they could not disobey that law for a male…But he was exiled.

After I became a woman, he was supposed to bring me back to his clan, for imprinting.”

She shook her head. “As you can see, he did no such thing.”

“My children do have a small measure of that inheritance from me, from me. Will, was acting like a pretty typical male. Flitting from girl to girl” She chuffed.

“Typical of human males as well…but there is a difference. We bond earlier in life. What I’m saying, Ibis, is that now, he definitely has imprinted you. It is only natural that you should be with him…”

“Wait. Yesterday…that vial you gave me. It was to make certain of this, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.” She said matter-of-factly. “It is true that as powerfully close as you two, obviously are…love-making would cement his imprint on you. Every other immortal would see it and not claim you. Imprinting is the strongest bond two creatures can have. It cannot be broken.

I overhear a lot. I know about that other male, who has wanted to claim you for himself. He cannot, now.”

Stephen. Of course.

I was angry despite myself. I had been manipulated like the chess piece. And she had the nerve to judge her own people for the same thing.

She stood up and walked towards me her smile fading. “…I had to.”

She said. “As close to human as my children are, my clan would wish them dead, for being inferior.”

“This is why your people must turn them, both.”

*****

This was a lot of new information to take in…This huge part of Will and Clara, I had not known.

“I beg you.” she said, clasping my hands. “I know you’ve had doubts, but you must.” Her voice trembled on that last.

Of course, I must.

I nodded.

*****

“I’d like it to be done within the week. I will speak to my children.”

“Their inheritance, will make it a more challenging task for you…Yes, I do know, it was almost done before.”

She squeezed my shoulders and stood back, her voice taking on tinsel quality.

“We’ll speak again, soon.”

She held up her arms, her hands arcing gracefully. The mist swirled around her and she vanished.

I didn’t think she had really been there in the first place. It must have been some strong form of astral projection. These Hetu were interesting.

*****

When I got home, Tess was of course, waiting, grinning at me like the cat who got the canary.

“So, have you turned him, yet?”

“No yet.” I said, wearily. “But you got your wish…I will have to before the week is out.”

*****

When I got to school, that Monday, Will almost immediately, was by my side. Clara was on the other…Looking between us suspiciously.

“You two look different.” She said, her eyes narrowed. “You’re smiling, Ibis. You don’t do that.”

“What do you mean? Sure, I do.”

“No, you just have that emo expression on your face all time…What’s going on?”

And then it hit her.

“…Oh, my God.” She said.

“You two!” She said, pointing accusingly.

“You didn’t!”

“Can you even? –Wow. Okay. Okay.”

She said, trying let that sink in.

“I’m just going to go to class, now.”

She turned on her heels, looking back at us like we’d performed the most amazing trick, which really, we had.

She quickly went into her classroom, shaking her head in disbelief.

Stephen stepped down the hall, coming towards us. His arm was draped around a blushing Nellie’s shoulders.

That ever-present smug smirk of his was gone.

fourteen

Lunch was tense. I could practically feel the hate radiating from Stephen, directed right at Will.Will pretended to be oblivious. I’m sure he thought it was because he knew what we had done.That was part of it.

He was also confused. Alice was obviously adept at disguising her presence. I had to be right in front of her, before I could sense her non-humaness. I assumed she wanted my mother to sense her…So, she relaxed her guard, somehow?

Stephen had no idea, how this human male could have imprinted me.

This situation would amuse me, but for my fear of how this might go. I stayed close to Will, I feared Stephen accidentally giving away that part of him, before his mother could tell him.

Why hadn’t she told them on Sunday?

*****

As the last school-bell rang, I spied Nelli leaning against her locker…Tears streaming down her face.

“That fucking asshole!” she screamed, pounding her fists hard enough to dent the door.

“Nelli…”

“That self-righteous dick said he couldn’t pretend anymore…Said I was a superficial twit. Not too much of a twit for him to go out with for two weeks, though!”

She slid down the stacked lockers and sat helplessly on the shiny linoleum floor.

“Ibis… I’m pretty, right?”

“Yeah, Nelli, you’re gorgeous…You can do much better.”

“Well, you sure have. I can’t believe how gone Will is for you. The way you look at each other.”

She sighed and looked down at her feet.

“I wish, I could have that. He even let you give it up.” Jesus, was it obvious to everyone??

“…I was starting to wonder about him, you know?” She chuckled through her tears.

“That stuck-up bastard!” and back to Stephen.

“Listen, Nell…How about we all go and help you drown your sorrows in an anti-love movie??”

“Anti-love?? Like what?”

“Well, I’m partial to Under the Tuscan Sun.”

“Wait, isn’t that the one where the divorced woman goes to Italy?”

“Yup.”

“I’ve seen it…At least she got a good lay.”

I laughed and gathered her up, carefully into a side-hug.

“Okay, we won’t see that.” It was now time to take one for the team.

Despite her efforts to be disliked, I now understood that was because she feared real closeness with others.

I had smelled some things on her, that lead me to believe her home life wasn’t exactly roses and daisies. Booze, cigarette smoke, the musk of a dirty old man…I could tell he hadn’t…done that yet. But he certainly would get there, soon, if left to his own devices.

She didn’t know it, but I had been keeping track of her, on the sly.

She lives close enough, so I can. So, far it’s just been inappropriate comments and breaching her personal space. Just enough, so she’d second-guess herself on what was really going on.

If and when he decided to go any further…He’d be getting a visit from me.

I took a deep breath and said something I’d never said, in all my long years of existence.

“Listen, Nelli, how about we go to the mall?”

The mall in this one-horse town, was a small outlet strip consisting of a Harris Teeter, A discount Eddie Bauer’s, an Old Navy, and locally owned multi-level Macy’s’-look-alike called Avene’s.

She looked up at me, her eyes wide with shock.

“Funny. I hadn’t pegged you as the mall-going type.”

“I’m not.” I thought.

Then she realized what I was doing, and genuinely seemed touched.

“Hey where’s Gail? Maybe we can invite her along.”

“At home sick.”

“Well, I know Clara will be up for it.”

“I helped her to her feet, pretending she was heavier than she was.”

*****

I saw Will in the parking lot…Shit, Stephen was headed his way.

I intercepted Stephen.

“We’ve got to talk.”

He cringed back from me.

“But he imprinted you. He’s been all over you.” he said with clear disgust. “How could he do that?! He’s human.”

“Walk with me.” I said through gritted teeth.

I grabbed his arm and pushed him back into the wall of the school…Hard. A few bricks chipped.

“What the hell?!”

“You’re right. He isn’t completely human.”

“Shit. …And he doesn’t know…He doesn’t know what he’s done to you.”

“No. But he will soon…But YOU won’t breath a word. Understand?”

He looked me up and down…His expression switching between desire and disgust.

“Look, Stephen. If you throw a wrench in this, I’ll make sure you regret it. Don’t fuck this up.”

He looked away. I grabbed his arm.

“Hey!” He said.

“Promise me, you won’t tell him.”

“I promise, I won’t say anything. I’m not a complete dick.”

“Good.”

He tried to reach out to me, but his hand stopped at a certain point, like he had a cramp in his hand.

“Shit. I can’t even bring myself to touch you anymore…”

“What is he?”

“You’ll find out, soon.”

I turned to leave…And I heard his voice in my head.

“I still want you. The things we can’t have…”

I spoke out loud. “You should be concerning yourself with apologizing to Nelli.”

I stalked off.

*****

Will was calmer than usual about me talking to Stephen. I think on some level, he knew he couldn’t do anything.

“What was that about?”

“Nelli.”

Well part of it was, at least.

“Listen, Will, would you mind dropping us off by the mall?”

“Sure.” he said, looking slightly amused.

*****

I’d texted Clara about this. She was supposed to met us here.

I sat in the shoe department, while Nelli tried on endless pairs of strappy shoes… Apparently, she was a shoe therapy kind of girl. She seemed much cheerier.

I was in the third circle of hell.

Where was Clara??

“I’m here.” She said, appearing on the floor. She looked shell-shocked.

She knew. That meant Will did too.

“Will’s gonna drop you two off, after we’re done.” She said.

*****

Nelli’s home was closer to mine, but they made up a lie about having to swing by the grocery store to pick up some ingredients their dad had requested…And she hopped out early.

“Mom told us.” Will said.

“We’ll be turned on Saturday…”

“Will there be any kind of risk to you?”

“No. We’ll be fine…It’ll just take more preparations, than usual. Apparently there are some other…shape-shifters who have been brought over. It’s why the idea of vampires changing form is part of the myth…because some of them did, because they started out like my mother.”

He shook his head. “I still can’t believe she kept this from us this whole time.”

Clara had been quiet.

“Clara? How is this sitting with you?”

“I’m afraid.”

She said simply.

“I don’t want to be a different person.”

“You won’t be.” I said.

She still looked worried.

“Will it be like…with him?” She said, remembering her kidnapping.

“No. It won’t.” I said, placing a hand on top of her own.

Will looked at me calmly. He was more than ready, completely at peace with the idea and more than likely, looking forward to the benefits.

*****

Preparations, began early in the week.

Their mother had prepared a special protective concoction, to help their bodies accept the venom.

They’d been drinking a measured amount, everyday. By the time Saturday morning came around, they were ready.

*****

We all went to Clara and Will’s home. It was protected by a shield their mother had erected. She knew the power unleashed during their change could very well give away their position to her clan’s powerful elders.

Sylvia, Holt, Stephen, and Tess came along as well, just in case they were needed.

The change affected people in different ways. Some escaped immediately to find human sustenance. Others panicked and harmed themselves. Depending on the gifts, which were wide-ranging… It could very well be dangerous.

It was decided that it would be best to bite them. Injecting had been considered, but the personal contact had a greater sedatiing effect on our victims. It was an adaption perfect for our survival. No need to fight and potentially damage our food.

Because she feared it most, Clara opted to go first, to get it over with. Her last experience with this had been pretty traumatizing.

*****

“Be gentle with me.”

“Don’t worry…” I said, as I sat on the edge of her bed, “I will.”

“Are you gonna bite me on the neck? Or what?”

“I had planned on the wrist, actually.” I said, smiling. She seemed uncomfortable with the notion of us being so intimate.

I was tasked with this myself, because I was closest to them both. Knowing them so well, having been around them so much, meant my body would calm their own, easiest. That was a definite necessity, for entering this delicate task.

“Are you ready?”

“…As I’ll ever be.” She said, taking a deep breath. “I guess that’s the last time I’ll do that, huh?” she said, chuckling.

Her laugh was strained.

I took her hand and she nodded, turning away; her eyes, squeezed tightly shut.

I bit down. She winced at first, but very quickly relaxed. I took only just enough to get my venom into her system.

This time, she lay still… her body quickly changing. Her skin became like porcelain, her lips reddening. Her hair, became lusher, a paler cornsilk blond.

It was taking hold quickly.

Suddenly, her eyes flew open. They were the true black of calligraphy ink. She sat up and looked at all of us. And immediately we all felt her terror…

Sylvia spoke up first.

“It’s not real. She’s an empathic-telepath. She can make us feel what she does.”

Sylvia stepped forward, her eyes steady on hers. “It’s okay. You’re okay.” she said.

She cringed against the wall, causing bits of adobe to fall away.

Alice whispered something and blew.

Suddenly, Clara’s eyes rolled back in her head and she dropped. Stephen caught her before she hit the floor.

“Jesus.” Stephen said.

“I had to. She could make us all go mad, with so little control over her gifts.” She said.

“She’ll be fine.” Stephen placed her gingerly, back on her bed.

“She’ll be out for the rest of the day. And she’ll wake up much more in control of herself…” Alice said, stroking her daughter’s hair.

“And now, for my son.” she said, looking at me.

*****

“Do they all have to be here?” He asked.

“Yes.” I said, smiling…It was very intimate for us. Like a whole audience watching us kiss… more than that, really.

He sat up and looked at me.

“Are you ready, Will?”

He answered by angling up his chin, his eyes steady on my own. At that moment, I really wished I could be alone with him, too.

I would savor this last taste of him, his delicious alluring blood…Gone after this. Screw our spectators.

I leaned forward and breathed him in, brushing my lips across his jugular. He gasped, expecting the bite. And then I did. He grunted, in pain, in pleasure…both.

His trembling hands grasped at my shirt and then fell slack at his sides. I willed myself to stop. It had been easier, this time. His taste was already changing.

And then I saw it…The wounds at his neck, healing. His skin hardening, becoming that same porcelain color, his hair taking on that same unnatural luster. Shafts of sunlight leaked through the shaded window… and his skin reflected, where it touched. I was right about them both.

They were so beautiful, it almost hurt to look at them.

His eyes flew open again, the truest black of emptiness, a fathomless void.

He looked at me, his blood still on my lips and it was like no one else was there… He slid out of the bed, and walked over to me. He reached out and wiped the blood from my lips, with a finger.

He then angled my face up and gently kissed me.

*****

“Will, honey…” Alice said, stepping forward, her husband close behind.

“How do you feel?” he looked up at her, his eyes narrowing.

“Like myself…but keener. More aware of things.”

He leaned down towards me again. “Ibis. You smell like flowers in the rain. I don’t know what kind.”

And then he touched his head… “Stephen’s coming.”

And sure enough, he stepped through my door. Clearly checking on me, not Will.

Will stared at him and frowned. He walked over to him and peered at him in frighteningly knowing way. Stephen backed up.

“I see you.” he said. ” I see what you want. I see your plan. Every step.”

He smiled.

“It won’t happen.” he said simply.

He turned to his mother.

“The clan elders are coming.”

fifteen

Clara lay so prone in her bed, she looked like a beautiful corpse.Alice, lifted her head into her lap and eased the glass containing the red-black liquid between her lips…Clara, still and unaware drank it down, instinctively.Everyone was gathered in her room.

“There is nothing we can do about the elders except wait and be judged.” Alice said, her skin gone gray with fear.

“Can you give us some idea of how they think? What they may do?” Tess asked.

“They are unpredictable and powerful. They have contempt for humans and what they see as their animal-ways. They believe Hetu are the most highly evolved creatures on our planet; that we evolved from humans, from animals to higher beings.”

“They sound like Nazis.” Will, said.

“Yes. If immortals didn’t need humans, they would most assuredly exterminate them all. Listen. This is important that you understand…Hetu cannot always be detected, not even by you, Will.

They have magick that can block even your extraordinary gift. They are shape-shifters, as you know…They would plan on observing us without our knowledge. It is their way.

They are brutal judges of character and immortal laws. If they see violations of either, they will come down hard. Often, the punishment is death.”

Doug squeezed Alice’s shoulder.

She reached up and covered his hand with her own.

“Believe me. We all have something to worry about. Anyone of us, could be judged… poorly.”

She sighed.

“They cannot cover such a long distance by magick alone…It will take them awhile to go here. At least not before nightfall. Like you…” She said to Tess.

“They are at their most discreet in the black of night. They would want to judge you then.”

“Expect them, this evening.”

*****

Will hadn’t spoken to me since his awakening. And now he sat silently in an easy chair drinking synthetic.

“It’s strange. It’s like drinking liquid need.”

“-Will?”

“Hm?”

“What did…What did you see back there? With Stephen?”

Instead of answering, he got up and took me into his arms, embracing me, inhaling me…Ignoring my question.

“Apple blossoms.”

Whatever it was, he didn’t feel he could share it with me.

“That bad, huh?”

“Would you come with me, for a while?”

I nodded.

He took my hand and lead me into his backyard. There was an impressive garden there, as it would be under Alice’s care. It was filled with exotic plants, I had never seen before. It looked like another world, especially under that ever-present mist.

“I’ve never really seen it before.” He said, scanning the dense foliage.

Some of the plants, sparkled, others held a luminescent glow, some moved like living creatures, while others constantly rained a strange cloud of spores…None could be seen with the naked human eye.

He lead me along, beside him.

“I didn’t know it would be like this…So much that is now known to me. It all passed me by when I was…human.” He sounded wistful, like an adult missing his innocence.

“Are you regretting it?”

“No. Life is progress. Even as humans we can never go back, right?”

“Will- Would you please tell me what you saw back there, with Stephen?”

He looked at me, as if trying to decide how much to tell me.

“I can’t say, just now…It constantly changes. He is cunning. He tries to hid behind those veiled dreams of his. I confuse it for something else. All I can say, is that he plans to use this judgment against us.”

I could think of any number of ways that might work.

“This thing, that I have…You ever look at one of those Magic Eye drawings?”

I knew of them, humans found the shifting perspectives, the differences between the bits of art wrapped in one, amusing.

One piece, usually a message, appeared in 3-D. For us, though, the nuance was the bigger thing than the trick.

“Using this…to look further than what’s immediate. It’s like that. It takes effort to shift it just right to see what I want and it doesn’t always work. It could be a lie.”

“So, you were bluffing him a bit?”

“Just a little.”

We both laughed. But I knew, he was still being evasive. There was more he knew that he wasn’t telling me.

I wanted to quell this for awhile. “Well, how about you stretch out those other abilities of yours?”

“Let’s see if you can keep up.”

I backed into the thick mist, smiling at him. At the last second, I turned and took off. The wind whistled past my ears. I darted across the desert in a zig-zag formation. When he got close, I moved just out of reach. The cool damp air felt amazing on my skin.

He was fast and athletic in life, but I’m not new at this. Still, I underestimated him.

One second my feet were under me, the next they weren’t. And he was on top of me, straddling me on the sandy earth, pinning my hands over my head.

He was strong. I had to admit, that was something I had missed. Everything physical had been so easy for me, it was nice to have someone who was my match in that. His skin glistened with the heavy moisture in the air, his hair hung in a thick white-blond wave across his forehead.

He was dripping on me. I didn’t mind.

“Did I pass your test?” He said, managing to still make those eyes of his twinkle. I nodded.

I missed that light aquamarine color, but the steady crimson they were now, held something different. Something dangerous, that stirred a different kind of longing in me.

A mischievous smile creased his lips. He switched his hands so only of one them held both of my own above me. His free hand slid down my neckline, gracefully slipping open the buttons, on my short-sleeve checkered shirt.

He leaned down and kissed my neck.

He knew what I wanted. Every step, every moment after that was perfection. He controlled me and enjoyed this new power over me; knowing my every desire and fulfilling them.

I did love that new gift of his.

*****

When we returned, things were still tense, but our brief absence had been ignored. It had been expected, really.

Will kept me close to him, his hand entwining my own.

Clara was now up, groggy, but calm. Everyone in the vicinity felt the same.

I went to her. I was responsible for this.

“Clara?”

Her mother sat stroking her hair on the other side of her bed.

“Ibis…I was wrong. I’m more me, not less.”

She was right. In life, she was a leader of a the most popular clique in school. Even then, all others followed her moods and whims.

It made sense that her gift would be as it is now.

“I hope, I can control this.”

“It will get easier.” I said, taking her hand. “You’re still new. You’re doing better than I did. It was the opposite for me. Every other person’s emotions was reflected by me. It was confusing for a long while.”

She laughed weakly.

“You do care a lot for others, Ibis.”

Alice interrupted.

“Clara, honey…We’re going to need you to try to learn how to control this quicker than usual. The drink I gave you earlier had something in it that should help you.”

“They’re coming, aren’t they?”

“Yes.”

“And you want me to try to keep them from getting all homicidal, right?”

Alice smiled. “Yes, in a manner of speaking.”

“I’ll try.”



sixteen
We were all gathered in the Henry family room, staring out of the large picture window. Everything felt too still. As dusk settled over Shadow, we all felt the change.The clouds, the air, all literally stopped.And then they were all just there. In the middle of the family room like some weird convergence of reality and a dreamworld.

Four tall, thin, brown men wearing elaborate robes. Alice started at one of them.

“Father?”

He made no reply.

*****

1 mile outside of North Base Camp El Gorah, Egypt – Gulf War, November 12, 1990

“Ahlise, hurry child!! I can only cloak for so long…You must get to American soil. They would not risk exposing themselves to those foreign humans.”

The tall, bearded, brown man, dragged the young woman along.

“You said, it would not matter! -That I am too human for them to concern themselves with.”

He chuffed. “I was wrong. They want to imprint you.”

“What!-How?”

“…I have no choice.” He said, his voice cracking. He sounded like he was on the verge of madness. “I had to choose…It had to be you.”

Hunimehl thought back to when he met the very small, very blond, Swedish anthropologist.

Unlike the other humans, who tended to look past the natives they were supposed to be studying, she saw immediately, that were not like any other humans she had encountered. She tried to tell her superiors, but they did not believe her.

And when he fell for her, imprinted her, married her, and bore Ahlise, it was tense within his clan, but his maleness counted for a lot.

Though, he had hoped, he knew his female offspring would not have the same protection.

His daughter had her eyes and hair color…But her skin had the permanent bronze of the desert’s kiss.

“STOP! RIGHT THERE!! THIS IS AN AMERICAN BASE, YOU MUST TURN AROUND AND RETURN TO YOUR HOME!!” the American voice, shouted in Arabic.

Hunimehl said nothing. “IF YOU DO NOT RESPOND, I WILL ASSUME YOU HAVE A WEAPON!!”

The rifle click was audible.

“NO! I am unarmed!!” he said, flailing his arms.

“My daughter!! Her sister was attacked and killed, I do not wish the same for her. Please, take her!!”

“Sir! The base is not equipped to take on any more refugees!!

He thought up the lie quickly…

“But her mother was American, see?” He removed her hijab…And her blond hair was very clear in the high desert sun.

He could hear the soldiers talking…

“BRING HER IN, SLOWLY!!”

“Take her back to America!!” he yelled.

“SHUT UP!”

Ahlise had never been there, but her English was good enough, that they would definitely think it.

As they got close, the soldiers forced them both to the ground. They were quickly and thoroughly searched.

“My God, look at her.” One of them said.

“What do we do?…There’s no more room, in the inn, sir.”

“We’ll make room.”

A tall blond man came forward and helped her to her feet.

“STOP!” Hunimehl said in Arabic only to the blond man, the only one who had shown genuine kindness.

“Keep her safe.”

The other men were leering at the girl and giving Hunimehl dirty looks…

“We will take her into custody sir.” He said, calmly

“…And don’t worry, I will make sure no harm comes to her.” He said, giving each of the men warning looks.

“Maybe we should take him into custody, too. How do we know he’s not keeping an American woman hostage somewhere?”

“My mother is no hostage.” Ahlise said, in her best English.

Again, Hunimehl said only to the blond man…waving his hand over his face. “Keep her safe.”

The spell was a powerful one…Every last bit of cloaking he had, went into it. He only hoped what little magick his daughter possessed would grow enough for her to take over.

*****

No one said anything more. Not even Alice’s father. He looked broken and weary.

“We are here for the half-caste and her children…Abominations, they are.”

“No!” Alice said, “They have been turned, they are immortals.”

Orders were given in a strange language…

A tall man stepped forward and held up his hand, palm forward.

A light emanated from it, aimed directly at Clara. Before any of the others could react, Clara’s whole chest lit up. The man closed his fist and Clara dropped down to the floor, stone dead. It happened so fast…I couldn’t believe it.

Alice let out a wail of pain and ran to her daughter, mumbling spells over her…trying her best to reverse what had been done.

“Come on, come on little-bear, wake-up. WAKE UP!!” Doug said, stroking his daughter’s still face.

Will blinked in shock. “I didn’t see it…I didn’t see.”

“Bear?” Clara’s eyes stared unseeingly up at the ceiling…And Clara’s grandfather had stood by and watched the whole thing.

“She was a willful female…Trying to sway our emotions.”

Alice ignored the leader and lept at her father.

“You are not my father! I curse you!” She spit at his feet. Silent tears full of fury streamed down her face.

The others tried to attack in the chaos. Holt and Sylvia were quickly put down. Tess was knocked out cold.

“Do you wish us to judge the other one, now?”

The one in the front, clearly the leader, held up a lighted-fist. Everyone left standing, froze.

“Where is the young immortal female you tried to use to protect your kin?”

Alice wavered on unsteady feet, but said nothing.

I stepped forward, my eyes bright with unshed tears for Clara…My first friend now gone.

“Ahh. This one…Forcing them together like livestock?”

“And you judge us?! Ahlise?”

“You would have been with me, a great honor for you. But you chose this, this human…And his weak offspring.”

He began to laugh. “How dare you think a human’s imprint has any legitimacy in our eyes??”

“How dare you think that you’re better than him.” She said, her face hard with anger and grief.

” And your human…” he said, referring to Douglas.

“-You touch him, and I die taking you with me.” She said, calmly.

And he could see that she meant it. He had the closest approximation his twisted mind could muster to love for her, but he was still too selfish, too cowardly, to die along with her.

Stephen stepped forward and cleared his throat.

“If I may…Will’s was not the first imprint on this female. Mine was.”

*****

I looked at Stephen with the gravest contempt.

He continued. “The girl is rightfully mine.”

“…how dare you…”

“Before I even came to Shadow, I imprinted her.”

“My God…” I said, remembering that first waking dream, when I met Stephen. And then I knew.

“You unimaginable bastard…And to think, I was beginning to sympathize with you.”

“More than that, I’d wager.” He said, smugly.

I walked over and punched him in the jaw, knocking him to the floor.

His imprint. It was the reason the other females had been so willing to be with him, and worse still, they would all still long for him, when he was done and gone.

But not me. I hadn’t been so easy because Will, was already unknowingly, imprinting me, himself.

“-If you give her to me, Will here, will be a solitary immortal, with no claim. He would not be your concern. Am I right?” He said, getting back to his feet.

“You see, I’m trying to help you.” He said to my mind. I ignored it. I felt dirty just having him communicate that way to me.

He knew it would come down to this.

The Hetu clan-leaders communicated telepathically among themselves.

“…His human claim on her would be forfeit. No laws broken.” Stephen continued.

Alice interjected. “He was never completely human and you KNOW THAT! Humans do not imprint.”

“I have thoughts, feelings.” I said stepping forward.

“I am not some thing you can just pass along. I won’t go.” I said, growing more and more furious.

They ignored us.

“If you take this female…We would be settled in your debts.” The clan-leader said. They made a move towards me.

“No!”

“WILL!”

I jumped up and wrapped my arms around his neck, kissing him, desperately…

“-Ibis.”

“I have to.” I said.

He gently peeled my arms from his neck.

I knew, I was making this more difficult for him. Losing both his sister and his love in a matter of minutes. I couldn’t help it. He was resolved to let me go. Even this morning, maybe even back at the dance.

He knew.

He leaned in to kiss me, one last time.

“I love you Ibis.” he said, his eyes full of regret. “…That’s why I’m not giving you up.”

Quick as a blink, before anyone could react, he stepped in front of me.

*****

The leader stepped forward, his fist held up.

“Revak! Stop.”

It was Alice’s father…Will’s grandfather.

“You have already killed one of my grandchildren without impunity. I will not watch you kill the other, when YOU KNOW the law, in this matter.”

He looked from Will to Alice.

“Fine.” Revak said.

“Then we will settle this our way…”

seventeen

“Take them.”Two of the tall brown men stepped forward and brought their hands up in the same formation, I had seen Alice do earlier.The house began to fade, behind us… and so did Clara’s body.

Alice, Will, Stephen, and I were the only ones brought through this…strange vessel.

When we landed, hard, we were on a large salt flat… There was nothing in any direction for miles.

Nothing living, at all, except us.

We quickly recovered and Will found me, taking me into his arms protectively, as if Stephen might just claim me, then.

Revak began to speak.

“I will observe the law, though it will be futile…” He stepped towards Hunimehl.

“You wish to claim the rights for your grandchild?!”

“Yes.” he said.

“Then you must take it…From him.”

Hunimehl turned towards Stephen. And then he began to change…His body shifted form until he was a hyena, laughing up at the waning night.

He lept at him. We all were frozen, our eyes glued to this strange spectacle. This was what Hetu really were, for all their talk of being above animals.

It landed on Stephen’s chest…The hyena “yipped” loudly and bore dangerous looking fangs nipping centimeters away from Stephen’s throat.

Stephen held him back with his hands….Each propped on his upper and lower jawline…

It was over too quickly…We heard a snap, and the bloodied animal lay still on the flat ground.

Alice, already wrecked by the night’s earlier horrible events, was on the edge of her sanity now…

“He wanted to free her…And he failed. He wanted to free you.” Revak said looking at Ibis,

“…and he failed again. He dies a failed animal.”

“Fitting he was a hyena. All of his attempts were a joke.” He said, coldly.

Alice saw it now… The choice he had made, his wife, her mother enduring who knew what kind of fate in her place.

She was now most certainly, dead.

Alice could no longer cry. She sat as still as statue, staring down at the corpse.

Stephen stood triumphantly, covered in blood, on his hands and from the neck up.

“Come with me, Ibis…Your boy will live on unharmed.”

Alice looked at me, then…The expression on her face was so weakly resigned to whatever pain was next, I shook Will’s hold of me off and went to him. I couldn’t bare any more of it.

“You’ll tire of me. All of this pain. And you will tire of me, like the others.” I said, quietly.

“Maybe not.” He said and grabbed my wrist. He pulled me the rest of the way to him and grabbed my face with his bloodied hands…

He forced me to face him and planted a rough kiss on my lips. He tried to force his way into my mouth, but I bite his lip. He shoved me away and wiped at his mouth, with amusement.

Will started after me, but Stephen held up a sticky hand… “Boy? You wish to die t-?”

He didn’t get to finish.

Will had jumped on him, knocking the words from his throat. They fought viciously. The blows that landed, reverberated throughout the empty expanse.

Revak watched this scene with a vague sense of amusement.

I crawled next to Alice…Trying to get her back, from wherever she’d gone…With her dead kin.

*****

They were at a tense impasse, each had the other in a tight death-hold…

And Stephen taunted. “She will yield to me…They all do. I stir them in ways, none could match.”

“You want her because she won’t…She never will.”

Stephen flipped him off and tackled him from behind. He gripped his throat, but Will somehow managed to wedge it, with his hands.

Will brought his elbow up and knocked him back…

And Stephen immediately caught him in the chest knocking him to the ground.

Stephen was on top of Will, his hands on his throat again, intending to take his head off.

A low moan began in Alice’s throat.

I stood up…”No! Stephen, I won’t fight you-…”

I didn’t get a chance to finish… In that brief moment he was distracted, Will slipped from his grip.

He brought Stephen’s arm up in a painful angle, snapping it. He rolled up to higher height and took his head into his arms.

There was a sickening pop and Stephen fell over dead.

Will sat for moment, looking at his hands, trying to comprehend what they had done.. When he finally looked up, he saw me holding his mother.

He got to his feet and walked towards us.

Revak stood up, clearly intending to finish what Stephen had started. “No human’s claim is valid.”

I didn’t see it…

One second, I was holding Alice, the next, she was gone.

“No.” She said, standing between Revak and Will. “No more of mine.”

She said, calmly, steadily.

“You kill me. You coward.”

He stood there confused for a moment, and then decided he would still lunge at Will.

Big mistake.

Alice reared up and her hands became like claws…She raked across his throat spilling his blood.

He looked up at her, his hand holding what was left of his throat together, his eyes wide with shock.

He fell over, and whispered an incantation to staunch the flow…but others, other Hetu appeared on the plain.

One of them, an old one, walked over to him and kicked away his hand.

Revak bled out quickly and was no more.

*****

The old one looked at us. Alice, Will, and I, covered in blood and looking as embattled as we were.

“We are finished.” He said.

The plain swirled around us and disappeared.

Again, we thudded back inside Will’s home.

*****

The reality of Clara’s death hit us all hard, in the time that followed.

Poor Alice, blamed herself. I blamed myself. Alice at least forgave her father. Now, that she knew what he was under. She put them all to rest.

Like all grief, the pain eventually dulled…but never left.

Will never returned to school. Nor did I.

*****

A year later…We held a small wedding ceremony inside an old abandoned church.

Everything that we had been through, the challenges, the beauty, the pain, culminated in this one moment.

I wore a very simple cotton shift, and Will a simple suit…

Tess watched us with a mixture of sadness and happiness in her eyes. I would never be completely lost to her, but things would be different.

I eventually had to reveal myself to Nelli. Between Clara’s death and her abusive stepfather, who I did have to visit, it was unavoidable.

She was there for our ceremony.

*****

Ten years later, we have a miracle. I am pregnant. It is a rare thing for our kind to reproduce, so it is exciting and frightening all at once.

Tess and Alice are fussing over me, both eager to have a new young one around to spoil.

We know she’s a girl.

Her name will be Clara.

THE END

 

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9 responses to “DUSK

  1. Ok, this was totally wonderful. I didn’t even like the Twilight books, but I loved this. Thanks so much for posting this!

  2. Pingback: RED MOON « cream♥coffee

  3. Did she have to end up with the human? ..Can we have an alternate one where she ends up with Stephen? This was written very well and don’t think this is negative – I’m just obstinate in who I like together, lol. You have a talent and can spin a very entertaining story. I wish the vampires were true, dark vampires but it was fashioned after Twilight. I’m to read your other, surely enjoyable works!

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