Hey, everyone! I'm super excited to share the first chapter of Vampire's Descent with you today! I hope you enjoy.
*Copyright 2017 Jennifer Snyder*
Drunk and disorderly. There was no other way to describe the group of three young women walking toward me. Even if their words hadn’t been slurred or their movements erratic and sloppy, I would’ve known they were wasted. The sharp scent of liquor saturated the air around them.
What were they thinking walking around Willow Harbor this time of night smashed?
I bent to tie my loose bootlaces. My gaze drifted to the three women involuntarily as they neared me. Their drunken giggles became louder and their slurred words less muffled. I’d seen each of them around town before. They were human. Well, possibly witches. It was hard to tell. All except for one. She was a shifter. Her scent reeked of not only alcohol but also animal. It was a musky scent I’d come to recognize since moving here.
Willow Harbor was filled with supernatural creatures. It was considered a relatively safe place for us, but on a night like tonight—when the moon was full—there were destined to be all sorts of creatures lurking in the shadows. This was why I was shocked at the lack of caution the three young women displayed. Supernaturals could be tempted enough to act on their basic instincts on a night like tonight.
I shook my head as the girls wobbled down the sidewalk. Part of me wanted to escort them to wherever they were going, but a larger part knew they wouldn’t feel any safer with me around.
I inhaled a deep breath, more out of habit than necessity, and crossed the street. A thud behind me had me glancing over my shoulder. One of the three women had fallen onto her hands and knees. Her friends struggled to help her up, but in their frame of mind, their efforts weren’t doing much good. I debated rushing over to see if she was okay, but decided against it when laughter burst past her lips. Her friends giggled along with her as they attempted to help her to a standing position. I started walking again, but a scent had me pausing mid-step.
I spun around to face the three again, faster than the naked eye could follow. Blood dripped from the woman’s left knee. Its sweet scent infused the air as it trickled down her shin. My heart pounded against my rib cage as my eyes zeroed in on it. The prick of my fangs descending reminded me I should look away, but I found it impossible.
“Hey, what are you looking at?” one of the two friends shouted.
My gaze snapped to her. She was the shifter in the group. Of course she was.
Her eerily bright eyes watched me with animalistic intent. I got the impression she was waiting for me to make a move toward her friend. I forced my fangs to retract and attempted to smooth my expression. Dull pain pulsed through my mouth from the gesture. I tore my eyes away from them and swallowed hard.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, vampire,” the shifter muttered, knowing I could hear her across the distance even though her friends might not be able to.
I crammed my hands into the front pockets of my jeans and kept my eyes glued to the sidewalk as I walked. A chilly breeze laced with the briny scent of salt water ruffled my hair, jolting me even more out of my trance. It was early spring in Willow Harbor. A time when the earth couldn’t make up its damn mind what temperature it wanted to be. Not even this far south. So far, even the coast of South Carolina seemed to have four distinct seasons. While I’d only been in Willow Harbor for a year, I’d already learned as much.
The cold didn’t bother me, though. Neither did the heat.
Another gust of salty wind kicked up as I passed under the long, drooping branches of the gigantic willow tree located near the center of town. My gaze drifted over its thick, twisting trunk and spindly branches. I watched them shift and sway. For a moment, it seemed as though the tree was acknowledging my presence.
Who knew, maybe it was.
Energy stemmed from the tree. The same could be said about the water of the channel flowing near its base. I didn’t understand the ancient energy, but there was no denying it was there. The tree and the water were special. Every supernatural in town knew this, even if they didn’t understand the logistics behind it.
I damn sure didn’t.
A branch brushed against my face as I crossed over the footbridge. Comfort trickled through my system, a reminder I was safe in here. It was all because of the tree. I could feel it. Something about it protected those of us living here. It hid the town from prying humans, and I swore it kept most of the riffraff out too. Maybe not all, but most. It was almost as though the tree drew the right people to the town; it pulled in the ones who belonged here.
I kept my head down as I passed the library, trying not to think about the wasted women and the scent of blood that lingered in the air. I wasn’t far from the walkway that led to the beach. From my apartment, it was close to a fifteen minute walk. The scent of the ocean reached my nose, coinciding with my thoughts, and the tension in my muscles eased away.
Surrounding myself with nature had always been the way I relaxed. Even when I was human. Nature centered and grounded me in a way nothing else could. There was only one problem with this beach in particular: You never knew what you’d find lurking in its waters or strolling along its sandy shore. It wasn’t why I chose not to feed on anything inside Willow Harbor, though. I didn’t hunt like other vampires. Animals or humans. Instead, I ordered my blood supply online. I was civilized. I wasn’t a monster. At least that was what I told myself.
Somedays, it worked better than others.
The sharp scent of washed up seaweed and rotting driftwood hit my nose as I neared the edge of the wooden walkway winding toward the sand. It soothed my thoughts and erased the lingering traces of the young woman’s blood. I inhaled again. The whiff of an animal nearby tantalized my senses. I wasn’t alone out here.
When was anyone?
I closed my eyes and allowed myself to forget how to breathe for the time being as I struggled to avoid this new temptation. Something had to give. I couldn’t continue like this much longer.
My online blood supply hadn’t been delivered today. While I wasn’t starving or at risk of falling into a bloodlust episode, I was still on edge because of it.
I’d been a vampire for over a year now, and during that time I’d made it a priority to never let my supply dwindle below three bags. Never. I always worried about what might happen if I were forced to ration a small supply for a lengthy period of time. Would I be able to control my hunger?
My biggest fear was now becoming a reality. I only had two bags remaining and no definite answer as to when I could expect my order. The storm that passed through last week slowed the delivery service I used down.
It was all that stood in the way of me having to hunt outside of Willow Harbor for a meal. Feeding within the limits of town was prohibited, not that I would anyway. I refused to feed on those who lived here because their family and friends would most likely band together to kill me. I wasn’t one for confrontation. Never had been.
I’d have to leave town if my supply didn’t come soon.
I hated leaving town. Passing through the iron gates made me uneasy. The chance of running into my maker, Aurora, was enough of a reason for me to stay put. She was as wicked as vampires came. Soulless and bloodthirsty. She was the reason I’d never tasted human blood— I didn’t want to be anything like her.
The wind picked up as I neared the end of the walkway. It held within it the scent of another animal. I licked my lips involuntarily as my stomach grumbled, and I had to force myself to head in the opposite direction.
The sand swallowed each of my footsteps as I headed down the beach. This was one of the best parts of living here, walking the beach at night during a full moon. I wasn’t sure if it was the dark ocean waters reflecting the sheer beauty of the moon or the soothing sounds of the waves racing one another to the shore, but I’d never felt contentment roll through me like a sedative except when I was here. Dark shadows moved through the choppy waters when I gazed out at the ocean. The sea creatures were enjoying the full moon as well it seemed. I zeroed in on a young woman sitting on one of the large rocks jutting up from the shifting waters. Her face was upturned to the moon as though she was having an intimate conversation with it. I continued on without interrupting her.
My gaze traveled to the night sky. The stars were out but barely visible through the wispy clouds streaking through the sky. Another gust of wind pulled at my clothing, but I continued. The hunger raging inside of me had finally drifted away.
Until a lone wolf came into view.
Its musky aroma caught in the breeze, invading my sense of smell before I could force myself to stop breathing again. I froze. From the way it slowed, I knew it had spotted me too. Seeing a random wolf strolling along the beach at night wasn’t an unusual occurrence in Willow Harbor; I just couldn’t handle being around anything that might tempt me. Not when I’d come so close to taming my hunger.
I remained still. Ignoring its presence would make me seem less of a threat, which was exactly what it would register me as in my current tortured state. While there was a good chance I could take it, should it come to that, I wasn’t one to initiate confrontations. Not with other supernaturals especially. Looks could be deceiving; my maker was proof.
A low snarl ripped through the night. Yup, it could feel the hunger festering inside me. I closed my eyes and remained as still as possible, knowing now wasn’t the time for this. I’d lose control if I wasn’t careful, and blood would be spilled. Lots of it.
Another few seconds passed before the wolf lost interest in me like I’d hoped. Sand shifted beneath its paws as it placed distance between us. I remained where I was until I felt enough time had passed. When I opened my eyes, the wolf was gone. I started down the beach again, glad the situation had been defused but frustrated my hunger was resurfacing. I didn’t want to have to tap into one of the two bags I had left, but it seemed as though it might be impossible not to. When a gray slate rock jetting from the beach came into view, I felt myself relax.
This was my spot.
Even though I was sure it belonged to others as well, right now it was mine. I loved this spot. It overlooked the choppy ocean waters and gave a clear view of the lighthouse in the distance. I situated myself on the smooth surface and gazed out, soaking in the soothing sounds of the ocean.
Time passed slowly. Once my body grew lax, I knew I’d gained all I could from the sea and beautiful view tonight. I slipped off my rock and started back toward my apartment. The trek wasn’t long. Twenty minutes at most. Before long, I was at the willow tree again and crossing over the little footbridge in front of it. Its long branches reached out to touch me for a second time tonight, and the calmness I’d found at my rock intensified tenfold.
I was okay. I’d be able to make it through another day of rationing my supply.
The specs of blood left behind on the curb from the woman who’d fallen captured my attention, but the sight didn’t have the same effect on me as before. I was in my Zen zone. Nothing could rattle me now.
Movement near a silver car I recognized grabbed my interest. It was parked in front of the bookstore. The heavenly scent of coconut floated to my nose on another chilly breeze, and the Zen-like state I’d been trapped in evaporated. My feet faltered as a jolt of electricity zipped through me, a knee-jerk reaction to the anticipated presence of the only girl I’d ever denied myself.
I cut across the street. Part of me hoped I’d run into Claire, while another part equal in size, prayed I didn’t. She wasn’t back in town to catch up with me. She wasn’t here for anything good. She was here because her twin brother, Danny, had committed suicide. Yeah, it was safe to say Claire was here for Danny’s funeral and to help her father with things. While I had been saddened by the news of her brother’s tragic death, I also felt excited at the prospect of crossing paths with Claire again.
Jesus, I was sick.
I couldn’t help it, though. Something about her spoke to the tiny parts of me untouched by the wickedness that had plagued my soul since becoming a vampire.
Claire Meyers held power over me, even if she didn’t know it.
I’d wanted her since the first moment I’d laid eyes on her, but knew I would never allow myself to have her. I’d never allow myself to have anyone. Not being what I was.
Even though I’d gathered early on Claire was a part of the supernatural world, I still couldn’t picture myself with her. Not as what I was. I hated what I was, what I’d become because of Aurora, and couldn’t see why Claire would ever want to be with someone like me. Besides, dating might not be allowed. I didn’t know how the supernatural world worked. Not really. Everything I knew I’d learned by accident. Aurora hadn’t intended to create me. I’d been a mistake, a forgotten loose end from a night of bloodshed.
I dipped my head to my boots and kept walking toward the narrow set of stairs that led to the apartments above the strip of shops the bookstore was included in. When I reached the glass door, it opened and out stepped Claire. My feet faltered to keep from running into her. God, she was beautiful. Her ebony hair had grown since the last time I’d saw her. It flowed past her shoulders in soft waves now instead of dangling at her chin. Her face was free of makeup, and the splatter of freckles across the bridge of her nose seemed to have darkened. She flashed me a tired smile as she maneuvered around me and headed for her car. I spun to follow her with my eyes. When she reached into the trunk and pulled out a large cardboard box, I snapped out of my trance and started toward her. I’d help her carry anything she needed me to. It was the polite thing to do if nothing else. Being a vampire hadn’t killed my conscience. I was still as chivalrous as always, maybe more so because I felt I had to make up for what I’d become. A certain level of guilt always seemed to be present inside of me.
“Need help with that?”
Claire jumped at the sound of my voice. Her hand flew to her chest as her stormy blue eyes snapped to mine. “Jesus, you scared me!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to.” What I should have said was I hadn’t known it was possible to sneak up on her. It had never happened before. She’d always heard me coming.
This moment was different, though. She was different. I could sense the brokenness festering inside her. It grew and expanded with each breath she took; it looked like a cancer was eating at her insides fueled by her sudden loss.
I wiped the goofy grin from my face. She didn’t need some moron ogling her while she was mourning the tragic death of her brother.
“I’m jumpy, that’s all.” She shifted the box she held around in her arms, and her full lips twisted into a tight smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
“Want me to get that for you?” I nodded to the box in her hand.
“I’ve got this one, but you could grab the other one for me if you want.”
Without hesitation, I moved toward her car and reached for the last box in her trunk. One of the flaps on the top came up, exposing its contents as I lifted it. There was a jewelry box inside, some stuffed animals, and a few old books.
Was she moving home? What about college? Had she finished already?
It was spring, which meant this would be her last semester of senior year. Did she finish early, or was she bringing stuff home for her dad to store because she’d decided she wanted more space? I wanted to ask, but I didn’t feel it was my place.
Claire slammed the trunk of her car shut and headed for the stairs leading up to the apartments. I followed her.
Once we hit the top of the stairs, she made her way to apartment number one—her brother’s apartment. My stomach tightened at the sight of his door. I should have put two and two together the second I noticed her heading toward the stairs and not the bookstore. Her dad didn’t live up here. He owned the bookstore downstairs and lived in town somewhere. Mr. Meyers was retired. Claire’s brother, Danny, had run the bookstore. He’d also lived in apartment one.
The door to Danny’s apartment was slightly ajar. Claire kicked it open with her foot and slipped inside. I followed but paused inside the threshold. Should I close the door behind me? Should I leave it open? Should I wait for her to tell me where she wanted me to set the box?
“You can set that one in here,” she said as she placed the box she was carrying on the kitchen counter and eyed me.
I opted to leave the door open as I crossed the apartment to where she stood. After depositing the box on the counter, I crammed my hands into the front pockets of my jeans and tried to look at anything besides her. I didn’t want to see the sorrow reflected in her beautiful eyes. It would gut me because I knew I could do nothing to fix it.
“Thanks. You saved me from having to endure more sympathetic looks from everyone stalking the streets tonight.” She rolled her eyes.
I grinned at the sight, relieved to see the spunk she’d always harbored hadn’t died in the wake of her brother’s suicide.
“Glad I could help.”
“I would offer you something to drink as a thank you, but the only thing my brother seems to have is chunky milk and orange juice.”
“That’s okay. I’m fine. Besides, it’s the thought that counts, right?”
“So they say,” she muttered. She began to unpack the box in front of her.
It was nothing but books. She stacked classic on top of classic, and I felt myself grow even more unworthy of her as I skimmed the titles. Out of the six she’d set out, I’d read only one—The Catcher in the Rye. I thought to strike up a conversation about it, but the only thing I could say was that it had been a good book. I couldn’t chat with her about what it was about, because honestly, there wasn’t much plot to the book. It was about a teenage boy who was rebellious as hell. He got himself kicked out of school and decided to loaf around, biding his time until he had to tell his parents. The voice the author used had been captivating as hell, though.
“I’m sorry about your brother,” I said before I could stop myself. Claire flinched at my words, and I knew hearing people tell her they were sorry for her loss probably had already grown old.
While I’d been lucky enough to not have death touch me in my twenty-two years—twenty-three and a half if you counted the time I’d now been a vampire—I could see how hearing something of that nature repeatedly might spark a sense of frustration or anger.
“Thanks,” she said as her movements became jerky and tense while she continued unpacking the box in front of her. When she froze and shifted her eyes to mine, I could have sworn she was about to ask me what the hell I was still doing in her brother’s apartment, but she didn’t. Instead, she skimmed her teeth over her plump bottom lip as hesitation crept through her features. “Did you hear him, Danny I mean, the night it happened?”
I wasn’t sure what hit me harder—the question she was asking or how utterly heartbroken she sounded. I shifted around on my feet and ran a hand through my hair.
“No. I wasn’t home.” It was the truth. I’d been out strolling the beach, clearing my mind. When I passed by the bookstore on my way home I’d smelled the blood, though. In fact, I’d barricaded myself in my apartment because of it. It was because of Danny’s death my current blood supply was so low. The aroma had caused the monster inside me to awaken and exude his power. I’d barely been able to control myself that night. I’d gone through three bags of blood in a matter of minutes, all in an effort to subdue the bloodlust simmering inside me at the tantalizing scent of so much blood infusing the air. “I’m sorry.”
Claire flinched again at the five-lettered word. I was sure she’d heard it more than a million times the last few days, but I didn’t know what else to say. The truth? No, I didn’t hear him but I smelled his blood. It tempted my vampire and caused me to blow through three bags of my supply. Hell no, that was insensitive as shit.
“Well, someone had to hear something.” The brightness of her eyes darkened, becoming cold.
I didn’t say anything. All I could do was stare at her.
Of course someone had heard something. Half the town, maybe more, had supernatural hearing. She knew this. Claire was a Willow Harbor lifer, not a transplant like me.
Why was she trying to torture herself with the details of her brother’s death, though? What could she gain by having someone admit they’d heard the gunshot go off when her brother killed himself?
I didn’t ask. It wasn’t my place to have such a personal conversation with her. We weren’t friends. We were acquaintances who happened to meet a couple times last summer when she was in town visiting her dad and brother during her summer vacation.
“That’s what I’m here to find out,” Claire said.
I wasn’t following her. “What do you mean?”
She lifted her gaze to mine. Her stormy blue eyes bored into me, reflecting a challenge I couldn’t decipher. “I don’t think my brother committed suicide. He wouldn’t. I know he wouldn’t.”
How could she think that? A self-inflicted gunshot wound was hard to dispute. Maybe she was in denial. It was probably normal in this situation.
“What do you think happened then?” I asked carefully. The last thing I wanted was to say something that would piss her off or upset her. She was in a sensitive state; that much was clear.
Her body grew rigid, but her eyes refused to leave mine. “I think my brother was murdered.”