I ran until the house was out of sight. It didn’t take as long as I would’ve thought, because I took a turn at the end of the block. Only then did I let go of my grip on time. The night was so still I almost couldn’t tell that it had resumed. Almost, except for all of the faint and scattered night time sounds that I could suddenly hear again.
I wasn’t remotely winded, and probably could’ve kept running. That was disconcerting, and then kind of fascinating. It was like finding a silver lining to this whole being undead business. I wasn’t just super strong, but I didn’t get worn out by exertion, either. That was surprising, but I figured it really shouldn’t have been. Everyone knows the undead don’t get tired. It’s just that I was used to being out of shape: despite being stick thin, I’d never really exercised.
I ran down another street or two just to get further away from the house. I didn’t think Hans would try to track me down, not after I’d reminded him why Emma shouldn’t be unchaperoned in the house, but I couldn’t be entirely sure he wouldn’t decide she was asleep and he could afford to come after me anyway.
I also couldn’t be entirely sure that his wolf wouldn’t take the decision out of his hands. Predator. Prey. I had fled.
When I decided I’d gotten far enough, I stopped. I needed to think, but all I ended up doing was screaming at myself in my head for flipping out on Hans instead of letting him talk. If I’d stayed there another minute longer, though, I would have broken up with him. It wouldn’t have been on purpose, but I wouldn’t have been able to stop it. My auto pilot had been on a vicious rant, and it was pretty clear to me what it would have followed up I’m surrendering myself to an eternity of being dead, stuffed in a box, and possibly lingering like some kind of semi-omniscient, out-of-body ghost with. It was hard to get worse than that, but breaking up with Hans would do it.
God, I relied on him exactly like I had relied on Megan — except at least she could feed on my crazy. Feeding on Hans, on the other hand, was driving him crazy.
I squeezed my eyes shut and stiffly repressed the urge to cry. It was replaced with a nagging sense of alarm. It was late at night and I was alone. That was how scary movies started and I’d already shown an unnaturally high penchant for being attacked lately. Usually by unnatural beings.
“Stop it,” I hissed at myself. The words were extra loud in my ears: not just because of my enhanced sense of hearing, but because of the accusation that accompanied them. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Nothing short of the goddamn sun can hurt you anymore.” That might have been overstating it, but I was fiercely angry with myself for being such a damn wimp.
I started walking anyway, desperate to put some distance between myself and the feeling that I was being watched, stalked, hunted. Between myself and feeling scared — as though I could outpace my own emotional responses. It was stupid to be so scared, but I couldn’t help myself. It was just ingrained in who I was, and frustrated tears threatened my eyes as I struggled against that fact.
If it came down to it and someone jumped out of the darkness at me, I wasn’t the one who was going to end up a corpse in the newspaper crime blotter. If it was just some thug — some random wandering axe-wielding serial killer — I wouldn’t just be able to see them coming. I’d also probably freak out when they caught up to me, flail around wildly, and accidentally shatter their spine, leaving them paralyzed for life. They’d be found in the morning, and their family — who never knew of their father’s night time career as an axe-wielding serial killer — would swear vengeance, giving rise to a dynasty of axe-wielding vampire hunters. I’d probably end up paralyzing members of that guy’s family for freaking generations, until one of them decided she was in love with me in one of those star-crossed plot twists and spent her life trying to decide if she should seduce me or plant an axe in my back.
Of course, since I was the evil vampire in that scenario, I’d probably end up seducing her. And then, as my luck would have it, we’d have one night of wild sex — which would accidentally end with her having a shattered spine, kicking the whole thing off again for another hundred generations.
I groaned and rubbed my face. Or, I could just run away when I saw the big dude with an axe lumbering toward me. But that would be too damn sensible. And besides, then wouldn’t I be guilty of neglect and share the blame for everyone he murdered after I’d gotten away? Sheesh, I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.
The sense that I was being watched didn’t go away. I started to wonder if I wasn’t just being paranoid. I mean: I could see in the dark, but that just meant mundane axe murderers couldn’t sneak up on me. The fae had appeared out of nowhere often enough. What if it was a faerie axe-wielding serial killer? A modern day Jack the Ripper, if Melvin was being honest about implying that he — or any fae — had been the original. I shivered. It would explain why the original had never been caught.
But on the other hand, if I were being stalked by a fae, it might just solve my stupid ‘where do I get energy for Megan for Emma’ problem.
I stopped walking and squeezed my eyes shut. That was my problem. I was too scared to see the answer that was right in front of me. I’d already promised that I would do something about the fae. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t let them do to someone else what I was pretty sure they’d done to me: feed on them until they had just as many issues as I did, until their new victim was a broken individual who was afraid of fucking everything. I’d promised.
But, when I’d done it, I’d been being stupid. I’d sworn that Melvin and the other fae wouldn’t know what hit them when I was hungry again. But then I’d been shirking responsibility for my decisions, divesting myself of the need to face my fears by promising myself I’d do it when I wasn’t afraid. Well, I’d gotten hungry — and the fae hadn’t known what had hit them. But that had been because they had come after me. I hadn’t gone after them, because when I was hungry I didn’t really give a shit about promises I made to myself when I was alive. Those promises were invested with a whole different set of emotional baggage than my vampire self carried around, and when I was hungry I didn’t give a fuck about what the fae might be doing to some poor son of a bitch: I just cared about my next meal, and if I could afford to kill this one.
And I couldn’t afford to do that anymore. If I made a resolution, then I had to carry through with it: not Vampire Abby. Not Hans, or Emma, or Megan. Me.
I breathed in deeply, then breathed out. The fae, obviously, were the answer. My curse was geared toward their blood. That was what I needed, if I didn’t want to be over-reliant on the lives of people who couldn’t possibly sustain me in the long term. If I were attacked by one right now, it would actually solve my problem. Which, of course, meant that whatever I felt watching me was probably just a figment of my over-active imagination: I just wasn’t that lucky.
So, I needed to figure out how to find them.
Was that right? Melvin had accused my kind of hunting his. He’d said so right before he’d geased me, when he’d claimed he was trying to assess whether or not I was a threat to Megan. But how? The fae were invisible until they showed themselves. Hans hadn’t even been able to smell Melvin on me that first night, and the fae that had ambushed Mr. Salvatore had gotten him by surprise. So how was I supposed to hunt them?
And more importantly… did I really want to take that step? Ever since I’d died, I’d been so scared of becoming a murderer; of turning into a monster. Was I really standing here, contemplating hunting down intelligent, sentient beings just so I could drink their blood and rip out their life force? Wouldn’t I be better off, morally, if I really did let the Directors inter me? Wouldn’t the world be better off without another monster on the streets?
Those thoughts almost undid me. Eyes still closed, I sank down until I was sitting on the sidewalk. Now, though, my eyes were squeezed tight against the tears that leaked free regardless. Whatever I decided, it would be irrevocable. If I were dead in the Center’s morgue, no one would be bringing me back. If I chose to hunt and kill, I’d never be able to go back to who I’d been before that choice.
But did I want to?
Did I really want to be who I was, this scared, helpless person who ruined the lives of everyone around her because she couldn’t even take care of herself?
No. No, I would either be dead for real, or I would hunt. I couldn’t stay the same: trying to do so was what had led to Emma being an emotional wreck and Hans’ wolf breaking his control. And whichever route I went, I had to be dedicated to it. If I was going to make a decision I couldn’t undo, then by god I was going to commit.
Except, of course, I’d already made my decision. I’d just been stupid enough to think I could commit my vampire self to doing it, instead of taking on the responsibility for it myself, as my living self.
The fae weren’t all bad. Megan was, and always would be, my best friend. But the ones that hunted people? The ones that stirred up fear and panic? The ones who took advantage of people who couldn’t defend themselves — the ones who, I was more and more certain, had turned me into the fucked up piece of work I was today — those ones, couldn’t I hate them without feeling like I was a bad person? Maybe. But could I hunt them without turning into one of the monsters I was afraid of?
Did I really have a choice?
Maybe, maybe, if it had been just my fate that hung in the balance, I would have had the strength to give up; to hold onto my humanity and let the Directors put me away where I would never do anyone harm. But it wasn’t just me. I’d already hurt Hans and devastated Emma. If I surrendered now it would be taking a coward’s way out, taking the easy path: letting their sacrifices be for fucking nothing except appeasing my own selfishness.
Have the strength to give up and die? Ha! What a fucking joke. Yes, giving up my life would be hard, but at the same time it would be easy. All I would have to do was nothing. Just keep going about my unlife like I had my real life, and one way or another I would end up being put down by someone: Archarel’s fae or the Directors, it made no difference. What would be hard would be facing all the things I was afraid of and trying to make up for all the selfishness I’d inflicted on Hans and Emma over the past few days — over our entire relationships, really. Which fucking sucked, because that was what I had to do. Life wasn’t easy. Neither was unlife. But I would be damned if I just suffered along without making my own decisions, this time around. There would be no more blaming my fears. No more blaming my autopilot for shit I did. One way or another, I was going to fucking own my fate, now.
I let out a shuddering sigh and scrubbed the tears out of my eyes. Then I stood and looked out into the night. I felt small, and afraid, and frail — but this time I had a resolution to fall back on. Just like when I had sworn to myself that I would protect Megan from Mr. Salvatore, I had something I couldn’t afford to let my fears make me fail at.
Only this time, it wasn’t for Megan. It wasn’t even for Hans and Emma, even though I did need to make things right with them, and prove they hadn’t given so much, so intimately, to me for nothing. No, this time my resolution was more terrifying than that. This time? This time, it was for myself. And this time… this time I wasn’t setting myself up to fight my fears, or to run from them. This time I was going to do something far more frightening than that. This time I was embracing them. This time, I was resolved to become that dark, predatory thing in the night that I had always been afraid of.
My decision was made. It had been lurking in the back of my mind, I realized, being chewed at by my subconscious and feeding my fears ever since I had died. But now that I had made it, now that I had dragged it out into the open of conscious thought, there would be no going back on it. I blinked once, slowly, to clear away the last of my tears. There would be no more time for those. Not right now, at least.
Now, it was time to hunt.