I remember the first time it happened. The pounding of my heart, the anger, the rage. I remember how I gave in, and the horror that followed right after. The screams of agony and terror, and the smell of burning cloth and hair. I remember stumbling as I backed away, struggling to take in what was happening right in front of my eyes.
"What did you do?! What the fuck did you do?!" someone shouted at me. I didn't know.
I remember getting up and running away as fast as I could, the agonizing screams of my bully and panicked shouts of his friends echoing through the woods. I remember running until my feet hurt and my lungs burned, and then running more.
I remember the effects of adrenaline wearing off and the unbearable pain in my hands kicking in. I remember realizing, as I was bandaging the burns, that what happened back in the woods wasn't some freakish accident. It was me.
My anger. My rage. My fire. It lashed out of me, right at the person I hated.
It wasn't spontaneous. I wanted it to happen. I wanted to hurt him.
And it felt good.
Burn all the letters, all the drafts
Burn everything I've ever said and done
My mind's corrupted, my mind is daft
A barren land devoid of water and of sun
The mountain looms over this land
But I can never reach it, cannot climb
For I am shackled to the ground
Imprisoned in the wasteland for my crime
And if you wish to set me free
Then burn me, burn me, burn me down
Let the flame devour me
Just burn me, burn me, burn me down
And from the ashes of my bones
Will rise the one who burdened is no more
Free of everything I've ever said and done
No longer fire walks with her
I can't, this world is driving me insane
It gnaws at me, devouring all hope
I look outside, inside, on small and larger scale
And all I see is madness sweeping through the globe
I find respite in worlds that aren't real
In memories of past, a child's naive assumptions,
Each day it's harder to emerge from soothing depths, there isn't much appeal
For water is the silence – it's the world above that makes me want to
I burst out in laughter. Maybe it was all the stress piled up during the day that decided to release itself in this way, or simply the absurdity of the statement that I had just heard, but here I was, wheezing in front of my subordinates. Parker, our newest and coincidentally the youngest hire who brought me the news, stood in front of my desk with oozing awkwardness.
"I'm sorry, what?" I chuckled as I wiped the tears from the corners of my eyes. "A vampire? And she wants to give an interview?"
"Uh, yes, that's e-exactly what she s-said, ma'am." Parker replied, stammering a bit.
I stopped laughing and finally composed myself back to my usual serious self.
"And where is this 'vampire' now?"
"She is waiting for you downstairs, ma'am."
"Alright. Tell her to come here. And stop calling me ma'am – I'm not that old yet."
"Yes, ma–" Parker caught himself just in time, apologized and scurried away.
"And what are you standing here for?" I addressed the rest of my staff. "There's still plenty of work to do, chop-chop!"
As they all hurried to leave my office, I leaned back in my chair and rubbed my forehead. Even though I didn't believe this vampire nonsense, I thought it would provide at least some sort of distraction from the barrage of shit that's been going on recently. I prepared the audio recorder, wrote some basic questions down on paper, and made sure that my taser was on me.
Thankfully, I didn't have to wait too long, and in a couple of minutes I saw Parker leading the alleged vampire to my office. I stood up and fixed my vest moments before they walked in.
"Thank you, Parker. You're free to go."
He nodded, thanked me and left.
I looked at today evening's weirdo. She was about 4' 11 in height, slim, wearing all white - sneakers, jeans, hoodie with a hood up, and even a pair of gloves. The sunglasses were covering the majority of her face, but the bits of skin that I could see were deathly pale.
I offered my open palm in a handshake.
"Meredith Rodgers, editor-in-chief of 'L.A. Uncovered'."
Unlike other 'vampires', she did not refuse a handshake. On the contrary. She took off her glove and shook my hand firmly. I nearly gasped at the cold I felt.
"Jennifer Gale. Pleasure to meet you." Her voice betrayed a hint of sadness when she said her name.
We sat down. Jennifer took her hood off, revealing blonde hair tucked in a ponytail. I turned on the audio recorder and introduced myself, then my guest.
"Miss Gale, you claim to be a.. vampire. Why?"
"Because I am." She asnwered with no hesitation.
"But why would you confess to a human, especially a journalist? Isn't it dangerous?"
"Rest easy knowing that danger will not visit us tonight. I came here because I have a story to tell, and I know that here, in this office, my story will not land on deaf ears."
"Why should I believe anything you say?"
"Because you want to believe, despite the façade you try to keep." There was a short pause. "I assure you that I will tell no lie, but should you have any doubts by the end of my story – I'll give you the proof you seek."
I don't know how, but she got it right. I came to the world of journalism with dreams of chasing paranormal, uncovering the truth behind the unexplained phenomena and sharing it with the world. What I didn't know was that every claim of supernatural I had chased throughout the years was nothing but a waste of my time and energy. Every single one. Once I dropped my obsession with fairytales, I came to realize that the real monsters were simple humans, hiding behind their smiles and suits.
But right now, I may have had the chance to find what I had always searched for. Despite my experience, I decided to entertain the idea that the woman before me might be exactly what she claims to be.
"Then tell me everything. From the beginning."
The King’s men
Breathe in. My heart races faster than an Olympic runner on drugs, countless little earthquakes hit my body all over, and rivers of sweat stream down my skin like a waterfall. The dread overwhelms me, but I won't let it take control. Breathe out.
I knew this day would come, but I hoped it won't be this soon. On the other hand, the money I took belongs to the King and, knowing how he does business, to expect anything less would be underestimating him. Insulting, even.
"Tell your boss I'll have your money by the end of the month," I wheeze through the chokehold, addressing the guy holding a cutter, "I've got a job coming up. Enough money to pay back in full and even to leave a tip for the three of you."
He chuckles. Though we are in a dark, secluded alley in the middle of the night, I can see a set of crooked, but clean teeth.
"Well, that settles it, eh? I suppose we should we let her go then?"
He looks at the thug to the right of him, and at the one behind me. They don't reply. He leans closer to me. The overly-saturated scent of cigarette smoke in his breath makes me feel even more nauseous.
"The King asked for a proof that we have an understanding." He grips my wrist tighter. "So, which one will it be, princess?"
Breathe in. There's no shame in being afraid for your life when you're overpowered and pinned by a man, let alone three. Especially if those three are barbaric cut-throats who would happily kill their own child if it meant a big paycheck. The best thing you can do in situations like this one is to do your best to keep your head cool. Almost impossible, I know, but giving into panic will only make it worse. I know. These types of guys, they're predators. Sadistic fucks preying on fear, getting off of crying and begging. But that won't be me. I'm trembling, I want to cry, I want to scream. But I will not. Not right now.
I look him dead in the eye.
The cut is surprisingly swift. For a little moment in time, I feel nothing at first. Then a bolt of pain surges through me, and I feel as if I've put my finger in the molten metal.
The thug behind me puts his gloved hand on my mouth, muffling my scream. They strengthen their grips, waiting until I run out of energy before letting me go. I collapse down on my knees, my breathing sharp and rapid. Clenching my right hand, I hold it closer to my chest, smearing blood all over my shirt.
The two make their way back to the car while I watch as the thug with crooked teeth steps on my severed finger, crushing it with a sickening crunch. It takes all my willpower not to barf my guts out.
He comes closer and pulls me by the hair. "You better have the money by the end of the week or we'll pay a visit to your dear little sister next."
If I wasn't so helpless right now I'd make him regret these words. But I just sit there on my knees and grit my teeth, watching as the thugs get into the car and drive off.
I take the phone out of my back pocket, smearing blood on it and my clothes in the process. I call the number on my speed dial and wait.
"Hey Cleo, what's up?"
"Get Lynn and meet me at the safehouse as soon as possible. We're hitting our mark tomorrow."
I hang up and scream into the night.