L.A. Ashton © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Ana’s eyes opened, unseeing. Her limbs were heavy, anchored to the floor by her own weakness and fatigue. And yet, she was alive.
That confused her.
The rough punctures of a bite burned at her neck. Blood dripped slowly from the wound, traveling the few short inches from her throat to the hardwood. Everything else felt fine; no broken limbs, no gashes or extraneous injuries. Her head rang, a high trill in the dark―perhaps a minor concussion sustained while collapsing.
The room smelled like blood, wolves, and a bit of spilled beer. But shapes were still hazy black masses in dim red lighting, and even with her superior sight, she couldn’t discern foreground and background, solid artifacts and darkness.
She closed her eyes. What would be more useful to grasp first, memory or sight? She could recall vague things: the laughter of her brother beside her as he beat them at another hand of poker, the limited light of the room, and the shuffle of cards against skin. Then there was…
She tipped her head, pressing her cheek against the coolness of the floor.
A vampire. A vampire had charged into the bar―their bar―and attacked.
After all the work she and Jackson had done, after all the effort they’d put into pack and vampire relations…
She opened her eyes again. There was movement, slow and deliberate as if the person wasn’t entirely coherent. She could barely see her packmates around her. Four of them were strewn about the floor, unmoving. They were alive, though, and that confused her as well. Their heartbeats and breaths filtered into her range of hearing as her mind cleared, and she could see the steady rise and fall of her brother’s chest.
Why would a vampire attack them? No―why would a vampire attack them and leave them alive?
She attempted to track the motion. There was a figure moving above them, heavy boots clomping against the floor. She looked toward their face and they paused, gazing down at her with a face swathed in shadow.
Her focus was bleary. She wouldn’t have been able to make out their features even if they’d looked at her full-on, dead in the eyes. They were all outlines… short or close-cropped hair… average height…
They had no heartbeat.
Her lips parted. She wanted to ask them why. Here lay five of her pack, drained to the point of immobility but not death. They would heal fast, as werewolves do, and they would track this assailant, as werewolves do. And then, without trial, they would kill them.
What kind of fool are you?
But she didn’t ask; her mouth was too dry and her body too slow, and by the time her mind had formed a proper question, the vampire was walking toward the entrance. The door opened up―a single rectangle of blue-black cut into the red-black of the bar―and bright stars shone quietly, like everything in the world was at peace.
The vampire sent one last look at her pack. Then they closed the door―softly, as if to not disturb. Ana stared at the doorway in sedated wonder.
Eventually she closed her eyes. The rest of their pack would find them, or their hearts would slowly beat them back to health, and the hunt for a vampire would begin.
Oskar had his hands deep in his pockets as he walked. Gravel crunched beneath his feet, announcing every heavy step he took. It felt as if he’d been in this district for ages, and yet he’d seen a handful of vampires at most. Perhaps that was the nature of a place so rural.
A few cars passed him, high-beams lighting up the wall of corn at his side. None stopped, which was fine; Oskar wasn’t much for people or conversation, and him passing through this district unnoticed was more than welcome. Custom dictated he check in with the district leader―announce there was another vampire roaming through town and all that―but what was the point, if he’d just be gone the next evening.
Maybe aimless traveling wasn’t how he should be spending eternity. Settling somewhere had never been a real option for Oskar, but perhaps he could make it work. Somehow, somewhere…
He enjoyed time with his thoughts, but centuries of bad memories and bad decisions grated against his sanity after spending days walking through cornfields.
Oskar pulled his phone out of his pocket and gave it a vague look. Should he Google it? The district leader? Being around other vampires might quell the apprehension at the back of his skull.
He put it back in his pocket. Forever uncommitted, even to himself.
A sign on the edge of the road hailed an upoming inn. Next to its name was a tiny symbol―a coffin. That meant they had light-tight rooms available; Oskar could stay there during the daylight hours. He tipped his head up and looked at the stars. The corn wasn’t interesting, but the stars above the countryside made up for it. It was difficult to describe the expansive black of the sky―the way it wrapped around him, the way it made him feel like he could sense the curvature of the earth.
For this century, the view was beautiful. Oskar couldn’t help but think of him though, the way he always thought of him when he looked at the stars. A lot of people sought immortality, but Oskar had chased the memories of being human since the day he died.
In the scheme of Oskar’s long life, they’d spent such little time together. And yet he was left feeling that the time they’d spent together had been the most full, the most important, and the most impossible to replicate. Perhaps it was because the end of their time had been punctuated by Oskar’s death―having Aranck was the same as having a heartbeat.
Oskar threw the negative thoughts away. Instead, he tried to remember Aranck’s face―the way he’d stared up at the sky and pointed out the constellations, naming them in Algonquin. His hair had draped over his shoulders, a dark veil guarding his neck. Well, mostly dark. There was a single strand of white that grew from behind Aranck’s ear, and in the dark it appeared to glow. When he’d turned to look at Oskar, it had been with expectant almond eyes, every spark of the night sky reflected in the dark of his irises.
Oskar had turned to the stars with reluctance in his sigh, but a smile on his lips. He pointed, instructing Aranck on the names of the constellations in Old Norse. Aranck repeated the words―sometimes beautifully, sometimes hideously, but always confidently―and Oskar couldn’t help but let his eyes pinch with laughter. Aranck was smart, quicker than Oskar when it came to learning the other’s language, and in disturbingly perfect Old Norse he’d said, “Want to go to the river?”
Oskar had nodded, wiping his trousers as he stood. Aranck led the way, as he always did, and the ribbons of light in the sky illuminated his lithe body. The bands of clouded stars and sky weren’t visible much anymore, but they had been back then. Their colors shone over sharp tops of pine trees and sparkled in the reflections of calm water. In their light, Aranck’s skin had been a warm silver or cobalt. Oskar had always been envious of how his bronze skin could hold sunlight in the day and starlight in the night.
In the present, Oskar tried to bury his hands deeper in his pockets. He wondered what Aranck would think of him now―a dead man walking on paved roads through a country they’d vowed to explore together.
He’d probably make fun of him. Aranck would be better at this, the whole eternal life thing. Oskar lifted his hand and ran it through the mess of hair at the top of his scalp. Aranck had always been better at living.