Chapter Five - Nightmare
We entered the tunnel. I was too afraid to let go of Ben’s hand, and he seemed perfectly happy to leave it that way. Just before my mouth went underwater, I took a deep breath, despite Ben’s warnings.
The tunnel was pitch-black. I was glad that I had Ben’s hand to guide me, although it was embarrassing to be holding the hand of a boy I had met only three days previously. I felt my lungs screaming for air, but they were full. I let out a shallow breath, bubbles brushing against my face and tickling me. But I was too scared to laugh.
“It’s okay, Liz,” said Ben. I couldn’t understand how he could talk when we were underwater, but Ben could do everything.
“I can’t breathe!” I tried to say. To my immense surprise the words formed, though water pressed its cold embrace against my face, and there was no air.
“Just don’t think about it. We’ll be there soon.” There was a strange light coming from somewhere - I could now see Ben’s face. In that white, underwater light, he looked so far from human that questions formed in my mind. He’d told me to guess, but I hadn’t managed it.
“Ben, I’m scared!” I said in panic. This was a nightmare. Here I was, under the sea, in a tunnel that enabled you to talk, but not to breathe, with my friend who may or may not be human. What would my family think when they found that I was gone?
“Liz, it’s okay, I’m here,” he said, calmly.
“I know - that’s why I’m scared,” I sobbed. The tears escaped without my say-so in my panic: I couldn’t stop them.
“Liz, don’t be scared of me!” said Ben, but the light was still casting strange shadows and Icouldn’ttrust him. The walls of the tunnel were like mirrors, the wet stone showing me the strange, frightening reflection of Ben over and over again. My thoughts whirled faster and faster, frightening me.
“I can’t - I can’t - Ben, what ARE you?” I was almost screaming now. There was sweat on my brow, and I was in a state of terror. I hardly noticed that I was now breathing, although we were underwater. My whole world was impossible.
“Liz, it’s going to be okay, you’re going to be fine, I promise.” But in my panic I perceived his words as lies. I couldn’t bear this any longer.
“Let me go! I want to go home!” I could almost hear funeral drums beating faster and faster when they told my parents that I’d last been seen walking out into the sea.
“We’re nearly there, don’t leave me now!” pleaded Ben. And we really were almost there. I could see an end to the wet tunnel just a few metres away. I held my hand out in front of me. It was shaking. Ben took it and led me forwards. “Come on, Liz,” he said. “We’re nearly there. It’s going to be okay.”
We emerged into the light.
At a first glance the room was very like any other. It was furnished with an odd assortment of chairs and tables. A sofa in one corner was currently occupied by a young couple, apparently oblivious to our presence. Seated at one of the wooden dining tables was a man. His power was obvious - he was well dressed, but that wasn’t it. What really showed his importance was Ben’s reaction. He immediately became humble - ashamed, even?
“Well, well - the wanderer returns,” said the man mockingly. Ben bowed his head.
“I’m sorry. Liz got frightened in the tunnel, we had to stop.” I couldn’t believe he was telling this stranger what a wuss I was.
“I know. I heard.” The man’s face was perfectly composed, but I could swear he was amused.
“I forgot. You can hear everything from here.” Ben looked almost embarrassed.
“Well, to business. Here or private?”
“I’m sorry?” said Ben. I was sure he was lying; sure that he knew what the man meant.
“Do you want to do it in here, or somewhere private?” said the man.
“Robert, is this really necessary?” asked Ben coldly. Robert looked at him with disdain.
“You haven’t told her, have you?” I looked around the room, to find a clue of what they were talking about. All I could see was the couple in the corner, who had broken apart to listen to our discussion. I looked away hurriedly.
“I didn’t bring her here for that.” I tried to look Ben in the eyes, but he wouldn’t look at me.
“But you brought her here! It is the rules, Ben. I can’t make exceptions, even for you.” Robert looked almost sad for a moment, but then he was business-like again. “If you won’t do it, then I will.”
“No!” Ben exclaimed. “She’s mine.” I looked from one to the other in panic. What were they planning, what was going to happen to me? I wanted to scream.
“Private, then.” Robert motioned to a door on our left. Ben took my hand. “Next time, Ben, I suggest you follow the rules. You are supposed to tell them before you bring them here.”
“She would not have come if I had.”
“Nevertheless, you should have done. You could have made her come.” Robert looked away, indicating that the discussion was over. Ben led me through the door into a room lit only by a small lamp in one corner.
The room was bare, with no decoration on the walls and no furniture save a couch and a mirror. Ben shut the door. It closed with a click that seemed to echo as being the end. This was it. This was final.
“Ben, what’s going on?” That was the first time I really looked at him. First time I really saw him.
I’d noticed before that he had extraordinarily dark curly hair, and strange eyes that seemed to be blue or brown, depending on the light. I’d noticed that he was tall, taller than most people of our age. I’d noticed that he was handsome, even by my standards. In the tunnel, I had noticed that he didn’t lookhuman.But now I noticed that he was in pain. Whatever it was that he was going to do to me, he didn’t want to do it. Whatever it was that was the rule for everyone who came to this place, he didn’t like it.
Ben was going to be forced, against his will, to do something to me. I didn’t like to think about what it was, but I was sure I wouldn’t like it.
“What’s going on?” I said again, my voice about an octave higher than normal. “Please, you’ve got to answer me!” I looked at the door. The key was in the lock, but Ben was faster than me. I’d never make it. And I couldn’t get back through that tunnel on my own. I wrung out my wet hair to try and distract myself while I waited for an answer. It didn’t work.
“Liz, there’s something I didn’t tell you.” Ben came towards me; put his arms on my waist. “There’s something you didn’t guess.” I looked into his face but it didn’t tell me anything. He leaned towards me, as though he was about to kiss me. His lips were on mine, just briefly, his curly hair brushing against my forehead. “I’m sorry, Liz.” And then his lips were on my neck, not my mouth, and I felt a sudden sharp pain, not unlike when I had my ears pierced, last year. But this pain was a thousand times worse, penetrating into my very soul. He took a step back.
“I’m sorry, Liz,” he said again. “You know I didn’t want to. You know I had to.” He seemed to grow taller and darker as he stepped back. I put a hand to my neck. It was wet. Wet and sticky.
I looked at my fingers. They were wet with blood.
Ben closed his eyes, held his nose, shut his mouth. He didn’t want to see the pain he caused me. Or maybe it was just the blood.
I ran to the mirror, my hand held away from me in revulsion. Looked at my neck and saw there what I’d been missing for a week. Saw the mark on my neck. A red mark. Red with blood. A bite mark.
No, Ben wasn’t human. He wasn’t an alien, either. He was a vampire.
The room swam before my eyes. I saw the blood start to run down my neck and I saw Ben open his mouth, just a crack. He ran his tongue over his teeth, the way he always did when he was nervous. Why hadn’t I noticed how sharp they were? I knew he wasn’t nervous now. What was going to happen?
The room started to swim.
“Liz, Liz, I’m sorry!” Ben was crying. He was crying - for me. Had he done this before? If so, why was he crying, now? Surely, I didn’tmeansomething to him?
I made my unsteady way over to the couch and sat down. As I lay my head back against it, I heard Ben telling me to rest.
“It’s going to be okay, Liz, you’ll be fine,” he said, but his voice was breaking. This time I knew that itwaslies.
Then everything went black.
When I woke up, I wasn’t on the couch any more. I was lying on something hard. My wrists were strapped by my side.
“You’re right, Ben. There is something different about her.” The voices were fuzzy, unclear. I couldn’t see anything.
“I’ve never seen anyone react like that, before,” said Ben. I wanted to hit him, but couldn’t move. I wondered why they had tied me up.
“No, neither have I. And you were telling me about how she was in the tunnel?”
“Yes, that was unusual, but not unheard of,” Ben replied. “Hysteria is quite common, but only among those who don’t know. It’s my fault really, I should have told her.”
I wanted to tell them to stop talking about me like I wasn’t here, but couldn’t open my mouth. I think it was at that point that I realised I was naked.
“She should be waking up soon. Shall I remove her bonds?” I decided that it must be a doctor talking to Ben, though I couldn’t see anything.
“No, wait to see what she does.” Ben seemed accustomed to giving orders. I wondered why. Could it be that he was important here? I opened my eyes.
“Liz, how do you feel?” said Ben immediately. He and a doctor - I had been right - were peering at me anxiously.
“I’d feel better if I could slap your lying face,” I said harshly. “Let me up!”
“You are strapped down for exactly that reason, Liz,” said Ben patiently. I didn’t care. I just wanted to shut his mouth - preferably permanently, but I’d settle for a day or two.
“At least give me some clothes!” I exclaimed. “And you’ll have to let me up for that.” Ben stood back.
“I think I’ll keep out of the way,” he said anxiously. The doctor untied me gently, and I stood up. My hands weren’t numb, so I couldn’t have been there all that long. I looked at my body. It looked exactly the same, except cleaner than before. Someone must have washed me. I hoped it wasn’t either of these two. My hair felt different too. Dry, yes, but silkier … it was no longer sticky with salt. That must have been washed too.
“Here,” said the doctor, passing me a pile of clothes. They weren’t mine.
“Those don’t belong to me,” I said. I didn’t like wearing other people’s clothes.
“No, we burned those. They were in appalling condition.” That was true - I’d been wearing my oldest clothes - but I didn’t like them saying so.
“Okay.” I put on the clothes, facing away from the two men. At least they’d got the right size, and there was underwear too. Soon I was dressed in the navy jeans and soft green t-shirt.
“Liz?” said Ben. I didn’t want to talk to him, but I supposed things could have been worse. This was a stupid prejudice to hold against him.
“Do you forgive me?” What a stupid question. Of course I didn’t. But then … did I really mind so much what he had done to me? Was there any reason to be so angry with him?
I thought about that for a moment. There were some advantages, I guessed. I’d probably live longer, but that was a mixed blessing in itself. There were definitely some disadvantages. Such as the fact it would be unlikely that I’d ever be able to go home. And the whole drinking blood thing. I wasn’t looking forward to that at all.
“I don’t know.” The three words fell flat in the air, emphasising everything I was feeling at that moment. My whole future had been balanced on a thread - now I was trying to work out whether it had fallen off or not.
“You’d better come and have something to eat.” I looked at him, confused. All the legends and stories I’d heard claimed that vampires didn’t eat. And yet, they also said that vampires couldn’t come out during the day, but I’d met Ben on the beach, on a hot, sunny day. I guessed that most of the legends were wrong.
“We can eat?” I said.
“Of course. Blood’s not actually necessary, you know. It’s like … chocolate to humans. Wonderfully tempting, but not a staple part of your diet.” That was news to me.
“Are you sure?” I asked. I could never tell whether Ben was joking or not. He laughed.
“Of course. Don’t look so worried.” I tried to dispel the frown from my face, but it was hard.
“Actually, Ben, I’m not hungry.” It was a lie, but I couldn’t face eating at that moment. “Will you show me where I’m going to live?” He looked puzzled. “I’m going to stay here, aren’t I?” I said hurriedly. “I mean, I can’t go home. They’d notice something different.”
“Yes, of course. That’s a rule, too, actually. You can’t go home.” So saying, he hurried across the hospital-like room and flung open the door. “Come with me.”
We went up so many flights of stairs and along so many corridors that I was well and truly lost almost straight away.
“Do you want to share, or have your own room?” he asked me.
“My own room, if possible,” I said straight away. “I don’t know anyone here, and I don’t think I’d be able to share with someone I don’t know.”
“You know me,” he pointed out. Life suddenly seemed very normal again, with the same things agitating me. It seemed hard to believe that not long ago I had been freaking out in that tunnel he’d insisted on bringing me through. Not that I had seen any other way to reach this house under the sea (which seemed perfectly dry to me).
“You’re a boy!” I said, perhaps idiotically.
“And?” said Ben, laughing.
“I’m a girl!” He nodded.
“Well, we can’t share!” Looking back, I see just how absurd my behaviour was. The rooms were big, but even if they hadn’t been, no one cared about that sort of thing.
“You think anyone gives a damn?” he said. And that was how I ended up sharing a room with Ben.