Eva removed a thicket of vines, revealing a rock wall. Sliding a section of the wall to the left, she opened a door into a dark cave. She looked at Maddox, her eyes like icy-blue gems on her pale face. Unblinking she said, “There will be no turning back.” Her tone was sharp and calm.
He turned, and as if he could see through the black woods all the way to where his parents’ house sat on the prairie, he knew this was his last chance to decide: will leaving this world forever be the best for my parents? He thought about the night he was stabbed and forced to watch Olivia raped and beaten, about the night he left his mom lying on his bed with her face stretched in horror and neck bleeding. These thoughts tormented him. It was like he had a tumor in his brain programmed to force him to relive those horrifying scenes.
* * *
Twenty four hours earlier.
There was a knock on Maddox’s door.
“Maddox,” his mother called softly. “Can I come in?”
His mother ambled in and slouched on the edge of his bed next to him, looking
at him with her brows downturned, working a new crease across her forehead.
“Why don’t you try to eat something?”
“I ate earlier with some friends,” he lied.
How could he keep the truth from her? Leaving home without an explanation may hurt
her…but staying may get her and everyone else he cared about killed.
“I think it’s good that you’re going out alone after what happened to you. You’re
“Those assholes raped Olivia, and almost killed both of us.” Maddox flapped his
hands up. “Yet the police can’t find them?”
“I’m sure they’re doing their best. Your dad is afraid they’d come after you.”
He held his mom’s gaze. “You and dad don’t need to worry about me.
I’m going to be fine.” But was he fine? Far from it.
“I remember the day you fell from that tree and broke your leg.” His mother
gazed at a photo of him wearing a cast on his left leg. “You thought you’d never
“Was I like twelve then?”
“Eleven and you thought you were a monkey, climbing every tree you thought
you could. And what did you do when your leg healed?” his mom’s russet eyes
brightened. You climbed the damn tree again.” Her tan face glowed with a smile.
“All the way to the top.”
“I remember dad being so mad with me.” Maddox couldn’t help but laugh, thinking about his father’s reaction. He felt alive as he had since coming home from the hospital, since his alteration from the attack. “He said he’d lock me up in a cage if I didn’t stop. And I told him I’d sling poop like a crazy monkey.”
I’ll enjoy my mom’s warm smile while I can, hold it forever in my memory and heart.
“Kind of like now,” his mother said. “Except it isn’t anger that your
dad is showing honey, its concern. He loves you.”
“But I can’t be afraid to go out forever Mom.”
“And you shouldn’t be. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything on your
own. Let us help you.”
“I need my space.”
“We’re not trying to imprison you.” As his mom put her arm around him, Maddox
leaned into her. “We’re just trying to protect you. When you went missing that night—”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Releasing a deep sigh, Maddox stood and shambled to the other side of the room.
“When the hospital called two days later,” she dabbed her finger under her eyes. “I thought I’d lost my only child. Now I’m wondering if I really have.”
“But I’m here.” He strode over, kneeled in front his mom, and clasped her hands, squeezing and shaking them. “Well and alive. I’m going to be fine.” It’s odd how a person will lie to make the people they care about happy. “I’m climbing the trees again.”
As his mom touched his cheek, he swiped tears from her puffy cheeks with his thumb. His heart was wrenching and he could feel the tears clinging to his own eyelids. No, no, no, don’t let her see your tears! He turned, wiping them away quickly. Even his tears had alternated with the rest of his body since the incident in the woods.
“How is it?” His mom gestured to his stomach as she wiped her small nose with a
tissue. Maddox lifted his shirt, revealing the scar on his abdomen where the man had
stabbed him. His mother put her hand to her chest, staring at it wide-eyed.
“It’s almost cleared up. The doctor prescribed you some strong medicine.”
But it wasn’t the medicine. The medicine disagrees with me.
Maddox ran his fingers over the rough and pinkish pockmark. It was like it never
His mouth became dry as sandpaper. He developed a gnawing in his belly, like some tiny critters tying his intestines in knots and tugging. There was a strong smell. It wasn’t mom’s jasmine perfume. It was more like a jar of old pennies. What was wrong with him? It was as if another being had taken control of his body. Maddox fought it. He couldn’t explain, nor deal with the aftermath of what would occur if he didn’t remain in control. He felt like a starved person sitting in front of a plate of his favorite meal, ready to sink his teeth into it. He needed to go before it was too late, before he went into some weird seizure, and did something worse.
“I’m going to try to get some sleep mom,” he lied again.
Maddox’s mom held his cheeks and kissed him on his forehead. “I love you honey.” He held on to his mother’s gaze for as long as he could; her eyes sparkling behind tears.
It was like a black cloud came over the last bit of sunshine, as what he feared most became a reality. His body no longer belonged to him, but to the beast he was forced to become, to live as, as a result of that night in those woods. His fangs protruded. No! The smell of a jar of old pennies was more dominant. The gnawing in his belly was unbearable, and the taste of blood overly tempting.
His mother recoiled back on the bed, looking at him—mouth hung open—as if she was actually seeing a beast only people gossiped about in horror books, not her son. It was like some pet that had been loving and loyal all the eighteen years, had caught a spell of rabies. Grasping his mother’s shoulders, he sunk his teeth into her neck, the taste of blood gradually relieving the cramps and the dryness in his mouth.
Maddox jerked away, his heart beating faster than ever before. His mom lay clutching her neck where blood seeped down on his white comforter.
* * *
I can’t take that night back. And I can’t make sense of what happened.
The moon was a fingernail in an austere night sky, shining a shaft of its pale light through the pines in the Wyoming forest. Maddox’s entire body ached with the pain of leaving the person who had always stood up for him, fed him, and listened to him, bleeding and in shock.
As much as he wanted to return home and explain to his parents the truth, to apologize to his mom for his permanent disease, he could not. I cannot. He did die in those woods. The Maddox, the one his family and Olivia knew, no longer existed. Where will I go? What is waiting for me beneath the ground, in this cave?
“What is the Order?” Maddox said.
She looked away. “They’re dangerous and will do anything to protect their society’s secrecy. That’s all you need to know. And I cannot protect you or your family from them if you don’t do as I ask.”
“Where are they?”
He could feel her cold, but non-threatening eyes watching him. She looked into the black cavern and back at him. “Shall we?”
How could he trust her? He doesn’t even know her. This could be a trick, her clever plan to lure him into the lair she’d told him about, to the Order.
“Where are we going?”
“To meet my maker.” Her tone and stare were both hard, but there was something kind beneath that, something which enticed Maddox to trust her: her prominent facial features and the way she gently carried herself.
“Trust me, Maddox.”
He followed Eva through the cavern, stepping over thick roots and rocks. Ahead was a dim light. She walked to it and pushed against the wall and a door opened into a hidden passageway, leading down into an abyss. They followed it between candles which lit a hard stone floor. The air was dry and filled with the scent of decomposed flesh and blood. The only sound came from Eva’s and his footsteps.
“How long have you lived down here?” he said.
She walked calmly with her back arched, her eyes focused in front of her, and seldom glancing to the sides, into the pitch black—where whispers reverberated in the dead air—as if she was expecting someone or something to appear. “Since I was altered.”
“How long ago was that? How old are you?”
She looked at him with a thin smile before returning her attention in front of her. “You should never ask a woman her age. I’ll tell you the story sometime.”
She stopped and looked at him. “You will hear thing, and may see things. Just keep walking no matter what.”
His heart pounded a little harder. He nodded. Now she tells me this.
The passageway slightly expanded as they strode into a wider area bathe with a fiery light, the air growing thinner. Soft moans echoed from deep within tunnels that burrowed off into the jagged walls on both sides. Bright yellow eyes watched them from old stone balconies above, where a throaty breathing sound came from, like a person who suffered from years of smoking. The ever-growing rank of blood enticed him. I’m sick, I’m sicker than any sick human being. Skulls were draped from windows high above the balconies, strung together by what looked like human intestines.
They reached a wide oak wood door at the end guarded by two men. Both of them were pale as stone and were garbed in russet leather vest and trousers. One had prominent looks with long ginger hair braided in a ponytail. The other man looked like an albino gorilla, without hair: his chest and head were strong and wide.
This can’t be what Maddox was destined to be; to live beneath the earth in the black like a hermit. Are vampires immune from rickets?
The door creaked as the two men opened it by its wooden lever. A tall corridor led straight between rows of skulls posted on the end of tall spears. Inside each skull was a candle, ejecting a dim light for them to see. In front of Maddox a man with a face of a corpse and strong cheekbones lounged in a large stone chair—his knees almost reaching his chest—barricaded by more dim-lit skulls. His hair—black as tar—was slicked down to the middle of his back. Off to the side was a hideous creature: it wore facial features like a wildcat with long shrill fingernails which extended more than twelve inches. Her skin was a sickly, pale yellow, yet her eyes were a fiery red. Two men imprisoned in chains to a pillar and mouths seamed shut with wires, struggled to free themselves from an impossible escape, moaning. Who were they? Why were they being tortured? The catlike woman—a perfect contestant for Ripley’s Believe It or Not—examined them, gently running her claw like hands down one of the men’s chest.
Eva strode to the colossal man and bowed her head. She nodded at Maddox.
“This is him.”
“Of course.” Rising to his feet—the man stood tall as a giant (easily over seven-foot tall)—he set his cold, dark eyes on Maddox.
“Who else would it be?”
The man walked down the steps, skipping one with his thick, lengthy legs, toward Maddox. The man’s eyes remained cold, and his face deprived of anything joyful. He placed his strong, brawny hand on Maddox’s shoulder. “Welcome to your new home, your new life. You won’t suffer anymore.”
Maddox swallowed his words as the man continued to gaze over his face and body as if he were trying to choose the best product, making sure he was fit.
“You still have a choice. You can leave or you can stay. But know there are also consequences to our choices.” The man pointed. “For your welcoming into our family, I have two gifts for you.” He gestured toward the two chained men. “If you don’t recognize them, they are two of the humans responsible for your stabbing, for raping your girlfriend. And humans say vampires are cruel?”
An icy feeling developed in Maddox’s already frigid stomach. Could it be the same ones?
One man—his eyes wide with fuzzy brown crud around his mouth— trembled in fear. The other man, lanky with a narrow jaw, gaped at the creature next to him, her tail calmly swishing as she ran one of her long nails across his cheek, carving a bloody incision. He yelled while the man next to him watched, hyperventilating.
“Have your revenge, Maddox: take the lives of the human scum and make the world a better place. Do it for your girlfriend. Do it for your new family, but most of all, do it for yourself. Relieve yourself of the anger and hurt. Unleash your new beast!” The gigantic man’s blank face broke into an awkward grin as his deep voice boomed off the rotting stone walls.
Maddox shuffled over to the two men. It was then he recognized the hardened hazel eyes and snarling face on the man’s shaggy face. He recalled the smile the thug wore when he was forcing his body on to Olivia: laughing, while she screamed and cried. These two were a fraction of why he could no longer be with her or his family. These were the sons of bitches that made him the monster that attacked his mother.
Protruding his fangs, the scent like that of old iron invaded his nostrils.
Images of Olivia lying in her own blood while he was forced to watch her clothes ripped from her body, and her face pounded unrecognizable, flashed though his mind before he sunk his teeth into the man’s neck. As the image of Olivia’s bruised face and sickly silence in the hospital flashed through his mind, he sunk his teeth in deeper, tearing into the man’s arteries and shredding away flesh. For the first time he guzzled blood as if he enjoyed it, enjoyed his new being. He wanted it. He slung the corpse to the ground, and with inhuman speed, he grabbed the other man by the throat.
The giant vampire encouraged him in the background while the bazaar lady-cat climbed a ledge above him, watching as she licked her chops with a slim grin, her fangs showing.
“Yesss, yesss, yesss!” she said. “Killl him.”
All which he’d experienced before the night his life was taken, the fact he’d never feel the sun bathe his body, or caress Olivia’s smooth, warm skin, and never taste his mother’s home cooked meals, all came rushing to his mind like a nightmare that was all the while true. Lifting the man off his feet by the throat, he slammed him against the wall. The man’s face flushed and his eyes started to bulge out. Clamping his fangs on the man’s neck, he drank his blood till he was full. But his blood still surged with a hard boil. He gripped the corpse’s head—growling— and ripped it from its torso. Blood sprayed all over him and painted the floor around him a vermilion-red.
Maddox’s mouth flew open as he fell back on his bottom, only his rapid breaths and heart thrashing at his ears.
What did I do? I’m as hideous as any creature here.
The giant vampire watched, his shrill white fangs jutting out; a glint of acceptance in his cold eyes. Eva’s eyes, however, were drained of any brightness. Never had Maddox felt so angry, yet so strong and satisfied at the same time. So alive. I’m alive!