PROLOGUE, PART ONE
The ironic thing is, if I hadn’t gone to get protection, I’d probably never have gotten bitten.
True, bitings were way up, but our town was like New York at the peak of its crime wave: most people who stayed in and were careful never got mugged. The thing was, in those days I had to walk a block from my office building to our parking garage, and as winter closed in it started getting dark before quitting time. I already had protection, too. I had a little piece of wood that I’d clumsily chopped to a point. But whenever I looked at it, the thought in my mind was, who was I kidding? I couldn’t ever imagine myself using it to put a hole in a living creature’s sternum. I didn’t even eat meat. So I went to see who everyone went to see eventually: the vampire research department at Urbecht University. Specifically Dr. Klaus Frederickson. I had had Frederickson for a freshman cryptobiology class, years ago. Understandably, he didn’t remember me.
Because of the silly type of person that I was, I had a witty line already picked out for when they sold me the blood gun—something like, “You must be making a tidy little profit off this, huh?” So it caught me off-guard when I was invited to Dr. Frederickson’s nearby home to retrieve the weapon, and I was astonished when it was handed to me for free. I even asked the doctor if he wanted anything for it. He was every inch the white-haired, perpetually concerned, arthritically bent old man who you’d expect to be fighting vampires. He shook his head decisively and said, “It is more important that all of the cursed ones die. Kill and do not be killed, and you will have repaid your debt to me.”
“I’ll try to remember that: kill, don’t be killed.” I joked. I was such a clever little idiot back then, wasn’t I? But in truth, I still didn’t really expect to be attacked. I thanked him and headed home, gun in my zipped-up purse.
I made it halfway through the garden before the creature fell on me.
It must have been in one of the trees. I later asked Klaus if perhaps it had been coming to attack him specifically, and maybe I had just gotten in the way. He replied that at the time none of the vampires knew where he lived, which I found completely unbelievable.
At the moment, I was lost in a frenzy of leathery wings, claws and strong arms that had already pinned back one of my hands. The other was under me, clutching my purse, trying desperately to work the zipper, which had chosen that moment to break. I pushed against the enormous weight one me; for an eternal minute we rolled on the ground as I ran out of breath and dirt and sticks scratched my skin. You might find this hard to believe, but I didn’t see or feel the bite when it happened.
I do remember finally pulling the trigger, three times I believe. The blood gun. Stories I’d heard from a couple survivors of attacks gave differing ideas of what the gun actually does, but I can tell you for sure. The first shot got it in the lower right ribcage, and it instantly jumped back a foot. I could get a good look at the vampire for the first time. It had been a man—still was, I suppose. Back then I didn’t think of them as partly human, only as monsters. The fact that this one had a pair of five-foot bat wings didn’t help matters. The second shot went truer, right through its sternum, and it froze. The pain on its face was excruciating, and for a second I felt guilty. It was the last time I would genuinely feel this annoying emotion.
I think I screamed when the fire began coming out of the bullet wounds. It was immolating slowly, smoke pouring out of its mouth around the sharp teeth as it tried to scream. I fired once more to make the death quicker, and as soon as the bullet struck, the thing exploded into a pillar of flame. It threw me back, and I fainted.
I woke in an unfamiliar room, a maze of rusting old metal shelves filled top to bottom with books. From the brick walls and the smell of book glue, I guessed I was somewhere in the old library. Frederickson appeared in my field of vision. “How do you feel, dear?”
“All right,” I said, although I had a hell of a headache and my eyes were having difficulty focusing. “Might have hit my head.”
“You might indeed have a concussion. Lie back again and relax. I apologize for the cramped quarters, but this was the closest room with no windows and a lock.”
I nodded. I was on a haphazard pile of blankets, with a pillow that appeared to have been ripped off a sofa arm. Wondering how much time had passed, I sat up further and looked around, but all I could see were books and wall. On the other end of the space was a narrow staircase leading up to a door at above head-height. So we were in a basement.
Suddenly what he said struck me. “A lock?”
He gave an apologetic smile. “Merely a precaution. You seem perfectly fine to me, but city ordinance demands a twenty-four hour observation period after…incidents like these.”
“It didn’t bite me. I killed it, didn’t I?”
His smile grew wider. “Yes, and you did a fantastic job of it. What a light show, eh? It’s just—” he gently took my hand and held it in the terrible fluorescent light, “—this.”
On my hand, stretching across the knuckles of my second and third finger, was a scratch. It was not particularly large or deep, and it looked as if I’d scraped it on the ground. If you believed the books and TV shows about vampires, it wouldn’t be worrisome at all, would it? They all tell you that the two tiny pricks on the neck are the sign of a vampire bite. But if you happen to live in a town with the actual creatures, if you’ve seen their teeth in person, you know that that’s just not true. I knew this, and yet I held out hope. “Is that…is it a bite? I think it’s just a scratch.” I stuttered.
“It may well be.” He lied convincingly. “Time will tell. Even if you were bitten, you know, it’s not a hundred percent guarantee. You know, the disease transfers in—”
“The saliva transfer, I know.” I said. Did he think I’d never seen one of those scaremongering videos in Health class?
“Are you hungry? The cafeteria is still open.”
I shook my head no. His expression told me that this was not the right answer. “I’ll be back with some water for you. At least you have plenty to read, right?” He laughed weakly.
I wasn’t really thirsty either, but I let him go. I was really still optimistic at that point. The headache was fading, and being replaced with a pleasant drowsiness. I figured I’d hit my head in the struggle, and probably did have a mild concussion. Not the end of the world. I drank my water and looked around the rows of bookshelves.
Within half an hour, I knew I was lost forever.
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