Under a massive sycamore tree, I sat and burst into tears. I found it hard to believe that my life was about to end. I wouldn't be able to see all the people I knew and loved again, would be drinking people's blood to quell my appetite and would be stuck with the monstrous Darren. Why me? I was just Taylor Kensington, your average 17 year old. I didn't want to be caught up in vampirism; I just wanted to lead my life normally. I wanted to go to university, read French and do a course in translation. I wanted to meet the right person, get married and have children. What was so wrong about that vision for the future that it had to be prevented? I'd never guessed that life could be so unfair, although I suppose it was death that was meddling with my affairs at the moment.
I returned home and tried to have a fun evening. I gave my bemused parents loads of hugs, saying I was feeling in that sort of mood. I also had the foresight to put some clothes in the rucksack I was taking. I told my parents I was going to camp out in the park to make the most of the summer. They found this strange but said nothing.
At ten to 7, I left the house feeling sad and world-weary, and walked to the park to meet my impending doom. I reckoned it wouldn't have been pleasant for Darren to come and fetch me.
Darren was standing under a willow tree to the right of the bridge which crossed the river separating the main part of the town from the park.
He smiled as he saw me approaching. "You came."
"Like I had a choice," I muttered.
Darren frowned. "Do you really hate me that much?"
"What do you think? Let's just get this over and done with before I decide to hand myself over to a lunatic asylum or confess to a crime I didn't commit."
"You really think being locked up is better?"
"What could be worse than this?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe dying," he said sarcastically.
"Nope, that's still better."
"You really think so?"
"I told you, anything's better than this. Now just do this thing."
"Or would you rather I snapped your neck? Ungrateful girl."
"Ungrateful?! You're taking me away from my family! The people I love. How can you stand there and call me ungrateful?!"
"Look on the bright side: you're going to see the next century."
"I don't care! I don't want to see that far into the future if it means becoming a monster like you. You've proved that your race is heartless and cruel."
I suddenly wondered what I was doing. Why was I having this conversation with him? I should be trying to run away from him. I deserved this if I couldn't think to attempt to flee.
"Oh, look over there," I said, pointing behind Darren.
He looked as if he wasn't amused. "I am psychic, you know."
Oh, damn. Wait! What did he just say?! "No! I don't want to read people's minds!"
"I think that's quite enough protesting, don't you?" he said coldly.
He stepped forward, grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me so we were further under the tree.
"Help!" I cried, in one desperate last attempt to save myself. "HELP!"
"No one can hear you. Have you forgotten our first exchange already?"
"Why me?" I asked quietly, feeling tears slide down my cheek.
"I've answered this question already."
"It's obvious I'm not going to be great company."
"You'll get better. Now, do I have to hypnotise you again?"
"Do what you like," I said, giving in. What was the use in fighting anymore? My fate was sealed and all I had to do was watch as it happened.
"It's not always this tough," Darren said gently. "Life, I mean. It gets better."
"It was already good. Now, get on with it. I've given you my permission, haven't I?"
Darren stroked my shoulder. "Thanks for making this easier on both of us."
"No problem," I said emotionlessly.
Darren tilted my head and delicately pierced the skin in my neck with his fangs. He drank slowly and purposefully. I winced as the blood was drawn out of me. My knees buckled without me really noticing - I was detached from everything except the pain which was a physical link to reality and a reminder that I was doomed. Darren supported my weight by holding me at the waist. It was almost the position of the slow dance at a disco. I hated him and I hated myself for not doing more to try and stop this. When Darren had finished, there were black spots in my vision, I couldn't breathe properly and I felt like I was going to throw up. Darren extricated his fangs from my neck and wordlessly bit his wrist and offered me it. I half felt like rejecting it and letting myself die in pain and discomfort but I took the blood, felt it help me recover until I was feeling all right again. All right but not normal. Different somehow. More ... energetic, alert... as if I'd just had an adrenaline rush and was ready to climb mountains.
"Now I give you the Kiss of Death."
"Does it have to be a kiss?"
"Yup. I suck the last breath of air from your body and you die."
I felt chilled to the core at such a prospect and was wondering why I wasn't hyperventilating or why my heart wasn't pounding - I was terrified.
"Where's my heartbeat?"
"It's about to stop. Now, don't be scared but you're not actually breathing at the moment."
"Can you stop talking?!" I asked, panicked. "Just stop this! End it. Now."
Darren nodded. He leant down and kissed me, but I could feel he was sucking too. Air passed out of my lungs and into his mouth. I collapsed as the world dissolved into black.
I woke up and felt ... rejuvenated. Not alive, but sort of hyper. Very alert. I fancied I could hear insects crawling in the undergrowth. Something told me I should be cold but I didn't appear to feel the temperature of the air around me. It didn't affect me. I looked up into brown eyes. Brown, commanding eyes. I lowered mine, knowing I wasn't supposed to challenge his gaze.
I felt ... excited, like a child. My hearing was better, my eyesight was tonnes keener (I'd seen caramel flecks in the man's eyes before I'd looked away and I know I hadn't seen those before).
My tongue explored my new teeth. It was the incisors flanking the two front ones. They were longer, sharper. They ended in delicate points which were extremely sensitive.
Something was up, though. I was taking in air and letting it out but I didn't need to. It wasn't doing anything, just passing in and out of my nose. I suppose I was just doing it out of habit. When I realised this, my chest stopped rising and falling. It was static. It was a bit scary, not having a heartbeat but I was sure I'd get used to it.
"Are you thirsty?" the man asked.
"No," I replied.
"Okay, then, follow me."
I willingly followed him over the wooden structure between the banks of the flowing water underneath it. I loyally ambled behind him as he led me to a dark car and got in when he opened the door for me.
"How much do you remember?" he asked when we were seated.
"Anything really. Who you are, who I am, what school you used to go to?" There was a slight emphasis on the words ‘used to'.
"Um... I don't know any of that. I know what a school is, if that's helpful."
"Not particularly, but don't worry. You'll remember."
"Oh wait, before the black... You kissed me," I said, unembarrassed.
"Yeah, that's right. It was actually quite romantic. I did that at twilight."
"When is it, now?"
"About 8 o'clock."
"Do you still hate me?"
"Hate you? No, of course not! I'm not meant to hate you. I like you."
"That's quite good, then."
There was an awkward silence.
"Um, it's a long drive to my place," the guy said. "If you want to take a nap, feel free. You must be exhausted."
He looked at me sideways. I politely averted my eyes.
"No, not really."
"Is there a reason you keep avoiding my gaze?"
"And that reason is...?"
"You're in charge... of me. I don't want to challenge your authority by meeting your eyes."
"Oh, it's because of the lord and master thing," he said to himself. "I wonder how long that lasts."
I politely ignored him and looked out at the landscape which streamed past. It made me dizzy after a while so I just focused on a spot on the dashboard.
"I suppose I should tell you our names," the guy said suddenly, quite surprising me.
"Well, you're Taylor and I'm Darren."
"Tayl-.. Tayl-..." Try as I might I could not pronounce the strange sound of my name.
"Tay," I said, settling for the first syllable which I could say easily. I suppose that it was the fangs that got in the way a bit when you were trying to talk.
Darren looked sympathetic.
"Now try my name."
"Dah-ruhn," I said, quite enjoying forming the ‘r' sound. "Dar-ren. Darren. Yeah, I'm fine with that. Tay and Darren."
Darren smiled. "Are you remembering anything else?"
I thought about it for a while and then replied, "Fuzzy pictures. Going backwards from the black. Me collapsing and your kiss are clear. Then there's ... drinking... something. Feeling ... strong after being weak... Then... blank. Nada. Can't remember."
"Still, that's really good progress. Well done."
"Thanks," I said, brimming with pleasure.
"You're actually quite cute like this. I want to cuddle you and read you a bedtime story," Darren said, sounding surprised but amused by this discovery.
"No objections here," I said happily.
Darren grinned. "This is going great."
I yawned suddenly. "Oops," I said. "I'm tired now."
"Have a rest. It'll do you a lot of good."
"Night Darren," I said amiably before snuggling against the comfortable seat and falling into a dreamless sleep.
It was nice when he called me Tay. I felt sort of warm inside - even though that was impossible.