My eyes snapped open to be greeted with harsh white light. Focus. Even though my head drooped, I knew several fluorescent tubes hung on the ceiling. I could… hear them. Each one gave a faint buzz. A tiny, tink, tink, tink, as flies walked over the glass.
The scent of copper filled my nose from all around, but somehow each smell was distinct. Six? No, seven unique smells. All men.
My thoughts paused for a moment. How did I know all this information without even lifting my head?
The chair I was sitting on was wooden—again I could tell from the scent alone—and my legs were chained to the ground. With a small tug as a test, I knew I could snap them. But I was surrounded by stone, a small room: damp, one window, too small to climb through, and a wooden door reinforced with, what was that? Iron? No, a different metal, a scent I wasn’t familiar with. Air seeped into the room so the door must be open.
Where was I? The last thing I remembered was a nightmare: a river of corpses, a voice like smoke, and… the face of Jacob Livingstone. It had seemed like Hell. I squeezed my eyes shut. I prayed—a nonsensical jumble of words addressed to no one in particular—before opening my eyes again.
My left arm was still gone. The sleeve of my shirt was pinned up to cover the stump.
I… I didn’t understand. Was I still dead? Had I ever been? Was this another room in hell?
Two voices interrupted my thoughts.
“I think he’s awake.”
“Good. Go get Lachlan. He wants to interrogate the filth before we kill him.”
Kill me? Were these the same people behind the fourteen murders?
One set of footsteps led away. The other man remained. I could hear the breath in his throat, the quickening of his heart. The deep stench of a leather coat, the clean smell of a cotton shirt. I could even hear his hair rustling against the inside of his hood.
I turned to face him. “Where am I?”
He snorted, then slammed the door shut.
No. I needed answers.
With a sharp tug, the chains ripped apart like paper. I ran, then threw my body into the door. At the very least, I expected a loud bang and a sore shoulder—instead I ran right through the door, shattering wood and metal alike.
The man stood to the side, gaping like a dead fish. But his shock melted into determination. He reached for his side.
It was like slow-motion, just as it had been moments before that Honda ran me over—if that had even happened. His fingers clasped around an object on his belt. I could smell the metal, the oil, charcoal and sulfur. A gun.
As if by instinct, I grabbed his wrist before he could pull it out. He struggled but my grip wouldn’t break. I couldn’t understand why; he looked bigger and stronger than me.
“Tell me where I am,” I said, “and what happened to me.”
He fumbled with his other hand. A backup weapon? I went to grab his second wrist, then remembered I only had one hand. Instead, I yanked his arm, trying to throw him off balance.
His entire arm ripped away from his body at the shoulder. I gasped, stumbled back, as blood gushed from the wound, spraying the floor, ceiling and walls. It splattered my face. What… What just happened? Oh god.
The man’s scream was cut off as more blood gurgled up his throat. He collapsed, choking on it.
My legs refused to move. My hand shook. Then I realised I was still holding his dismembered limb. My eyes locked onto it, forcing me to bear witness to what I had done, before I regained my senses and flung it away.
The wall welcomed me as I slid down its side to the floor. How did I do that?
That voice again.
“Who are you?!”
The hallway echoed the words back to me.
All will be explained in due time. You are in danger, these men intend to kill you. You won’t make it out of here alive if you don’t kill them first.
“What are you talking about? I’m not a killer!”
Oh my dear Seamus. I’m afraid these last few moments have rendered that statement false.
I shook my head. No, this was just another dream. Or I was still in Hell. But something in the back of my mind knew I was wrong. I… I had never felt more alive.
My gaze fixed on the body of the man. He’d stopped struggling for breath. The voice was right, I’d killed him. He had a gun. He wanted to kill me. I was just acting in self defense. I tried not to think about how I’d torn his arm off, I just knew I had done it.
That familiar copper scent invaded my senses. But other scents too: a seared steak, grilled hamburger, fresh bread and… wine? The smell of walking into a restaurant. My stomach grumbled. I pushed my fingers against my lips, trying to taste it, then it hit me. I was tasting it. The man’s blood was on my hand.
His blood was in my mouth. And it was delicious.
A scream struggled at my throat, tears begged to fall from my eyes, but instead a wave of calmness washed over me. Something about it made sense. Everything I’d done so far was purely instinctual. But still, I didn’t quite understand what was happening.
Very soon, you will. First, you must leave this wretched place.
I could feel a presence, distant, but closing rapidly. There was something comforting about it. I couldn’t explain the feeling but it was like seeing my mother waiting at the school gates to take me home.
Answers, that’s all I needed. I’d find them soon enough.
I was slow, pulling myself to my feet: missing an arm made every movement feel awkward. Even as I walked, I felt off balance. I wonder how long it’d take before I was used to it.
A sharp pain jabbed at my shoulder. There was a shard of wood poking out my blazer. It must have come from the door I crashed through. I gave it a cautious poke, only for the pain to burn down my arm. Damn! It’d hurt too much to take it out now.
Then I caught that same scent again, copper. No, now I knew what it truly was. Blood. Six of them, distinct, all smelling like a freshly cooked meal.
Half a dozen hunters wait around the corner on your left to ambush you. Be careful.
The voice sounded genuinely concerned.
Sure enough, he was right. I rounded the corner to see six men at the end, dressed in similar attire to the first. Except for one of them; his leather coat was longer, dyed red, and he didn’t wear a hat. Was this Lachlan, the man mentioned earlier? It didn’t matter, since the three kneeling in front all had guns pointing at me.
Tell them you don’t understand what is happening. They’ll listen to reason!
But even as that thought crossed my mind, I knew I was wrong. All their faces were the same, curled-down lips and furrowed brows. I had just killed their friend. They hated me… or whatever it was I had become. There was only one way out of this situation: kill, or be killed.
I moved fast. Faster than I ever thought possible.
Turn your hip into the punch, I recalled from after-school martial arts classes, use your whole body, not just your fist. My hand flew right through the closest man’s chest. This time, I swallowed down my gasp and moved onto the man on his right. My arm moved through his body like he was made of butter.
Flashes of light blinked in the side of my vision. They were firing their guns. I flinched at each loud bang, feeling the bullets tear past my clothes and thud into my skin. But that’s as far as they went. Tiny grazes, like paper-cuts, before they fell to the ground.
I couldn’t give it a second thought, the third man at the front charged at me with a sharp piece of wood. Ducking under it was easy—these men seemed so much slower than me—then my hand snapped up to grab his wrist. I must have put too much force into it because my hand cut through his and my fingers lodged themselves in his throat.
The last three men continued to fire. Lachlan shouted something but I couldn’t hear him over the gunshots. The blood spurting from my victims neck formed a mesmerising fountain. It showered me in red, plastering my hair to my face. So warm… so very warm.
A bullet pinged off the side of my head, pulling me back to my senses.
I dropped the body to the ground and turned on my remaining assailants. They had stopped firing now, were they out of bullets? Instead, they too revealed sharpened stakes.
Bullets barely broke my skin but I knew the stakes would. The sliver of wood lodged into my shoulder was proof of that. I couldn’t get hit by any of them.
With a deep breath, I moved again. Once more, the speed came as a shock to me: I moved so fast, everything became a blur, yet I still knew exactly where I was. A second hadn’t passed between the moment I moved, to when I grabbed a hold of one man’s throat and pulled out his windpipe.
A sharp pain pierced my back, right below the shoulder blade. As soon as I felt it, I whirled around, throwing the attacker off-balance. This time, I tried to pull my punch. My fist slammed against his chest, but didn’t pierce it. Still, the man crumpled like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Now, only Lachlan was left. He stood less than six feet away. His eyes bored into mine, his stake held at his side. The look on his face was that of complete focus, like a soldier peering down his rifle before taking the shot.
All of a sudden, the fatigue hit. My breath went shallow, my vision out-of-focus at the edges. What was wrong? Moving at such speeds must have been too much exertion. At any rate, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to do it again.
Lachlan’s lips curled upwards, from a frown to a smile. He reached into his coat… Another weapon? No, the man produced a steel crucifix. What—
My body seized up. It was as if I’d been encased in stone. I couldn’t move!
“Crux sacra sit mihi lux...” Lachlan chanted.
The words were deafening in my head, reverberating around the inside of my skull.
“Non draco sit mihi dux.”
Think, Shay! Think!
The second voice that had spoken in my head before was silent. Damnit! Now that I needed him, he’d disappeared.
I tried to move, to knock the cross out of Lachlan’s hand, but the closer I came, the more my muscles turned to sludge and the louder his words echoed. No, I had to get away. I pulled, with all my strength, against the invisible force.
My body jolted free, stumbling backwards. I reached out to catch myself, but with the wrong arm, and crashed into the floor.
I’d figured it out! The crucifix made some sort of barrier, paralysing me if I came close, but at a distance it was ineffective.
I scrambled with my feet and one hand, trying to crawl away, but I was too late. Lachlan advanced on me, bearing his holy weapon, faster than I could retreat. He was trying to force me into a corner; give me no chance to escape. Then he’d finish me off.
“Vade retro satana!”
It took all my strength to raise my hand to my face. I didn’t want to see the killing blow. Any second now.
Metal struck stone. I gulped. The paralysis disappeared. Was that it, then? Was I dead?
I didn’t feel dead.
I lowered my hand to see the crucifix had fallen to the ground. Lachlan stood over me. But something was wrong. Blood trickled down his shirt. His knees buckled and he fell in a heap beside his cross.
I recognised the voice that spoke. Smoky, yet soft. Sharp, yet comforting, like a knife wrapped in cotton. But this time, it wasn’t speaking from inside my head.
A man stood at the end of the corridor, dressed in a red-accented suit. In the next moment, he appeared kneeling before me. That speed! He was just like me.
His eyes searched over my body as if inspecting the damage, then, as if satisfied, he nodded. “You’ve done well, Seamus.”
“Shay,” I said, my voice a bare whisper. Correcting him was completely instinctive, my mouth saying the words before my mind had time to realise it was ridiculous. “I prefer Shay.”
“Shay…” he said, as if trying it out, “very well. I’m sure you have many questions to ask but first, we must leave this despicable place. There’s no telling how many more hunters are on their way—”
“No. You’re going to answer my questions right now.”
The man’s eyes darkened, but a quick flash of understanding washed over him.
“Who are you?”
“I am your maker. Doctor Jonathan Rose, at your service.”
My maker? He had turned me into what I was now? I remembered the car outside Cavern, running me over. The memory of the pain was distant, but still so very clear. Had this man saved me from death… or brought me back from it?
“What am I?”
He cocked his head. I suppose he was trying to figure out how to approach the question with delicacy.
“Simply put, you are my spawn. A half-vampire.”
Vampire. He’d said it. The word stuck in the back of my mind that I hadn’t dared to think, in case it made it true.
“So I’m… dead? Or undead?”
He gave an amused smile. “Dead? Briefly. Undead? No, I wouldn’t call it that. There’s an argument to be made that you aren’t alive either. The term we use is deathless.”