Waking up in the middle of a cemetery was never high on my bucket list—not that I had a bucket list at twenty-two—but if I had one at all, hanging out in a graveyard wasn’t ever going to be on it.
Of all the things that could have woken me up, it was the grainy yet damp sensation of dirt on my hands that did the trick.
Not the rain pelting me. Not the lash of wind chilling me to the bone. Not the fact that I was outside when I should be warm in my bed. No, those kernels of awareness came later. It was those simple granules of earth on my fingertips.
My first thought before I took in the world around me was, Mom’s gonna be pissed. Yes, even being a twenty-two-year-old college senior, I gave a shit what my mommy thought. Especially when my mother was the reigning queen of finding me asleep in my bed with a spent charcoal in my hand and losing her freaking mind. To my credit, I hadn’t been the one who decided I should live at home while I went to college. Nor had I been the one who’d insisted on crisp white sheets for a person who was perpetually covered in the remnants of whatever art medium she’d used that day.
Nope, that was on her.
Aching and groggy, it took a full minute to understand that I was, A—outside, and B—in the middle of a cemetery. At night. In a damp, nearly see-through nightgown that had never once graced my wardrobe.
Honestly, if I weren’t in so much pain—if my gut wasn’t roiling with hunger and my head wasn’t feeling like someone had taken a pickax to it, I could’ve sworn I was dreaming. Well, not dreaming exactly. Having a nightmare would be more like it. I mean, why else would I be covered in dirt, sitting on the freshly dug mound of a grave?
It took a hell of a lot of concentration to read the headstone, but I wasn’t at all surprised to read my own name: Sloane Emerson Cabot, with my birth and death date right underneath it.
As nightmares went, this was pretty solid. Too bad I had the sneaking suspicion I was in no way dreaming. After what seemed like ages, I moved, struggling to stand on unsteady legs. I stumbled, tripping over my own feet as I plopped back down on the loose earth of another freshly dug grave. I didn’t want to look at the headstone, but it was hard to miss. It was double-sized, the granite slab meant for a couple.
The cold finally touched me then. The rain lashed at my face, the pain smashing into me in a wave so vast it threatened to pull me under as I read the names etched into the stone.
Rosalind and Peter Cabot. Right underneath their names was a death date that matched mine.
I heaved, even though my stomach was empty and had been for what felt like a year. When it finally calmed down, I stood again, wobbled, but managed to stay vertical long enough to recognize the cemetery. I passed it every day on my way to school. Whispering Pines Cemetery was three blocks away from my house. In the opposite direction, closer to campus, was the police station.
Dithering, freezing, and hungrier than I’d ever been in my life, I fought with myself.
Should I go see if this was all a bad dream and hope my parents were sitting in their favorite chairs in our living room? Or did I go with my gut, knowing this wasn’t fake or a dream or some elaborate prank? Did I go to the police—the only people I could think of who might be able to help me understand this mess?
You could go to Aunt Julie.
That thought streaked across my brain, like a flare in the darkness. Aunt Julie wasn’t my aunt, but my mother’s best friend. She might know what happened. But Julie was on the other side of town, not two blocks down the street. Cops first. They could call Aunt Julie. They could tell me if this was all one big joke.
Or they could lock you up in an insane asylum. That was an option, too.
No. Someone had done something to me. Someone had hurt me—hurt us. The police would help. They would call Aunt Julie. They would straighten this whole mess out. Or I’d wake up. That was still on the table.
My stomach wrenched, the pain so acute, I stumbled to my knees again. But I had a purpose. I had a place to go and a job to do. So, I got up, pointed my feet to the station, and put one foot in front of the other until I was moving.
My first obstacle was a chained gate, the arched metal moving with the wind. It screeched back and forth, almost like it was laughing at me. I grabbed the padlock, the bulky metal unyielding in my hand one second, and then cracking and breaking into little bits the next. It was true that I might have had a minor hissy fit when I saw the chained and padlocked wrought-iron gate. But my temper tantrum broke the likely rusted-out lock, and I pushed the stupidly heavy gate open. The hinges squealed even more, loud enough to wake the dead. At that thought, I started cackling like I had lost the very last bit of my mind.
But soon, laughing hurt my ribs, and my stomach pitched once more, causing me to catch myself on the trunk of a young poplar tree before I went down again. I stumbled toward my goal—the stone-faced municipal building that was half-jail and half-police station, the courthouse right across the street.
One foot in front of the other, Sloane. Keep moving.
For some reason, I heard that in my mother’s voice. It reminded me of all the family hikes we’d gone on, the ones that we seemed to turn into a competitive sport with me losing every single time. Who thought ruck marches in the mountains for time was a family bonding moment? My parents, that's who.
Don’t look back, sweet girl. Only forward.
The streetlight was my beacon in the darkness—all I had to do was follow my mother’s words, and I’d be okay. It would all be okay. I trudged along, deciding to take a shortcut through the alley instead of following the sidewalk around the block when I retched on the pavement.
The contents of my stomach were a dark viscous liquid that smelled heavily of pennies. I didn’t look too hard at what came up, but I didn’t have a whole lot of time. I didn’t feel so hot.
The brick walls of the alley buffeted the wind and a bit of the rain that seemed to want to lash sideways at me. The shivers didn’t rattle my bones so hard, and at that tiny bit of relief, I wanted to curl up in the filth of the neglected lane and fall asleep. But, I only had a little bit farther to go.
Keep going, girl.
I heard the man before I saw him. Smelled him, too. But I was too busy staring at the blue and white Whispering Pines Police Department sign that kept me moving to really realize what the back of my brain was trying to tell me.
My hindbrain was screaming “Danger!” while my stupid front brain only thought about a cheeseburger and a bed and finding my parents. Still, I didn’t see him until he was damn near on top of me—the burn of liquor on his breath making me gag. His hands were pale, like the thin fingers of death under his billowing sweatshirt and thick jacket. His face was mostly obscured by the hood, so I didn’t catch the red to his eyes or length of his fangs until he’d shoved me against the bricks, their rough exterior digging into my shoulders.
I kicked—my only option since my wrists were caught in his long-fingered grip. He squeezed so hard the bones ground together—but my feeble attempts to injure him were met with a chuckle, eerie enough to keep me up at night.
“You think a fledgling is going to stop me? Pfft.” His scoff was punctuated by a resounding crack across my face before he yanked my wrists over my head and pulled me up, my feet dangling above the ground. “Your maker should have told you to stay out of another vampire’s territory. Tsk, tsk, tsk. I suppose I’ll just have to send them a message. Your dead body should do just fine.”
None of his words made much sense other than “dead body.” Those I got loud and clear.
The rest? Not so much.
My stomach took that particular moment to wrench as if someone was reaching into my middle and yanking it out. Given the red-eyed man was currently licking his chops, I had to look down to make sure my flesh was still intact. Without a better option, I brought my knee up, catching him in the middle. He dropped me with a pained “oof!” and I fell to the dirty street. Only then did I rake my hand across his face, my pitiful nails not hurting him too much, but drawing blood all the same.
“You little shit,” he growled, backhanding me—knocking me back into the rough bricks. But I barely felt the pain of his blow.
No, I was too focused on the heavenly scent coming from his skin. It smelled like the juiciest steak, and my hunger rose, punching me so hard I felt my mouth water and my gut twist. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, my teeth were in his throat.
Not at. In.
They had punched through his flesh while my body wrapped around him like a barnacle—latching onto anything that would keep the dark, blissfully tangy liquid running down my throat. It was like life was flowing into me, and it was all I could do to keep it.
All at once, images flooded my brain. Flashes of scenes no one wanted to see. Like the man—Jacob was his name—stealing the innocence of a girl who regrettably crossed his path. Or when he snapped the neck of an elderly bespectacled man in a tweed jacket who only asked him for the time. Or a mother and her baby…
Jacob had lived a very long time, and all the while, he’d hurt every single human who’d been unlucky enough to have been in his general vicinity. He hated humans. He hated everyone, and he meted out that hate at any and every opportunity.
I barely felt it when he fell to his knees, or when his ancient heart stopped beating. I drank and drank until there was nothing left. And then I tried to drink a little more. The pair of us were crumpled in the filth of that alley, and I didn’t care one bit. All I wanted—no, needed—was more of that delicious liquid. My teeth were buried in Jacob’s throat, even though there was nothing left of him to take.
Still, I hungered. And still, I took.
I couldn’t say for sure when I knew I was consuming his soul—when I knew I was taking everything that he was—to satiate my need. It was definitely during the act itself, but I couldn’t say how I knew. But only after I’d consumed the very last bit of his life force, did I fully realize what I’d done.
How I’d changed.
What I had become.
Shakily, I stood—staring down at the blood-soaked nightgown and the filth on my feet and the withered husk of Jacob’s body that was quickly crumbling to ash.
Jacob had been a monster, and now, so was I.
My gaze slowly rose to the blue and white sign, that just a few minutes ago, was a beacon in the night, a place to seek refuge. Now it was nothing but a glaring reminder of what I had just done.
I couldn’t go to the police. I couldn’t go to Aunt Julie. Not if I could do to her what I’d done to him.
All I knew for sure was there was a grave in Whispering Pines Cemetery with my name on it.
Maybe it would be a good idea to just stay dead.