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Shelter (Blood Haze: Book One), страница 1

 

Shelter (Blood Haze: Book One)
 

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Shelter (Blood Haze: Book One)


  Chapter One

  New Beginnings

  My heart was thumping rhythmically like a bass drum. My stomach clenched in knots, and I felt nauseous. I hadn’t fed on human blood in days, and now I was paying for it. A mixture of hunger and anxiety swelled inside me. I wanted to turn around and run, to flee back to the safety of the home I’d rarely left without a chaperone since my birth.

  Why now? Why, when I was seventeen years old and just a year away from graduation, did my mother have to decide to send me to high school. To a human high school, of all places?

  Mother had always been overprotective. She’d insisted that my brother and me be kept away from human interaction. In fact, she’d even kept me away from most other vampires, as well. I never thought much about it, to tell you the truth. We were happy. I had my brother to play with when I was little, and when I got older, I spent most of my time reading and watching movies. I learned to play the piano and I spent hours practicing. I knew we were different from other vampire families, and especially from human families, but it never really occurred to me to mind.

  But now my mother was demanding that I go to school with them. Humans. Those people she’d kept me away from my whole life, insisting they were dangerous. They didn’t look so dangerous. I knew I could snap a human neck like a twig without batting an eyelash, so I couldn’t understand why she’d made such a fuss.

  Now I knew.

  As I neared the school building, I could hear them. Smell them. The scent of their blood hung thick and delicious in the air. I could hear their hearts beating, pumping blood through their veins. The sound was like a dinner bell.

  Now

  I knew.

  I knew why she wanted to keep me away from humans. I knew why she’d insisted that I never leave home alone. I knew why she said humans were just as dangerous to me as I was to them. And I knew I could never make it through the day without sinking my fangs deep into the neck of one of them and draining every last precious drop.

  I shuddered and clutched my notebook to my chest, inhaling a deep, cleansing breath of the crisp morning air. A breeze fluttered past, sending swirls of crackling brown and orange leaves rustling by, and bringing the send of a dozen humans wafting up my nostrils.

  I spun around, hoping it wasn’t too late, that my brother’s car would still be there waiting for me in case I needed to make a hasty retreat. I exhaled sharply and felt my shoulders slouch forward with disappointment. He was gone.

  I lifted my head and clenched my jaw, and then I turned around and strode toward the front door.

  "I can do this," I muttered. Then I felt my face burning hot with embarrassment as I noticed several girls standing nearby and snickering at me as I talked to myself.

  Don’t talk to yourself out loud, you idiot!

  I thought.

  I passed by the gaggle of giggling girls and pulled the handle of one of the glass doors that stood in a row at the entrance. I was immediately assaulted by a massive blast of blood-tinged air. I sucked in my breath and tried not to smell it, but my mind was already pulsing with the delicious scent. I could feel my fangs tingling, a sure sign that they would soon unsheathe themselves.

  No! Not now!

  I gasped inside my head.

  "Alice?"

  I jumped, startled at the sound of my name. An older woman was peering down at me from behind cat’s eye glasses. She smiled at me, though I couldn’t tell if her smile was fake or sincere.

  "Yes," I acknowledged nervously.

  "I’m the school principal, Mrs. Vickers. Your mother told me you’d be coming today," she said. "I’m going to walk you to your first class. Is that okay?"

  "Um, sure," I nodded.

  She handed me a class schedule and a map of the school and launched into a long, droning speech about how glad she was to have me at Savannah High School, how I was really going to enjoy it, and how different it would be from homeschool.

  "Listen, Alice,"she said. "If you have any questions or concerns or you feel overwhelmed at all, my door is always open. Alright?"

  "Yes, ma’am," I said politely.

  "Good!" she said with a smile. "Now follow me. I’ll take you to your homeroom class."

  I followed Mrs. Vickers down a hallway that was swarming with humans. Some of them bumped against me or nudged me as we passed through them, and I could feel myself wanting to sink my fangs into their skin. How was I ever going to make it through one day here, much less an entire year?

  "This is it, Alice,"Mrs. Vickers chimed cheerfully, motioning toward an open door with her hand. "Just go in and choose a seat and your teacher will be in shortly."

  "Thank you," I said shyly.

  "Anytime," she responded. "And remember what I said. My door is always open."

  I nodded again, and she patted me on my shoulder and disappeared into the undulating swarm of students. I felt the need to take a deep breath, but I knew if I did, it would only intensify my hunger.

  I chose the desk in the far back corner of the room, assuming no one else would willingly sit that far away from others. A few moments later, two guys walked into the room and sat down. One sat in the desk right beside me, and the other chose the desk on the other side of him.

  Thirty other desks in the room,

  I thought, and they had to choose these. Great.

  Immediately after they sat down, the guy sitting beside me slapped the other one on the shoulder with the back of his hand and nodded toward me, grinning. Much to my chagrin, the guy sitting beside me turned toward me.

  "Hey, you’re new here, aren’t you?" he asked.

  I sighed, my eyes still facing straight ahead, but I could see him staring at me out of the corner of my eye. Did I even have to respond? Maybe I could just ignore him.

  "Um, yeah," I heard myself saying, despite the intense desire to remain silent.

  "What’s your name?"he asked.

  "Alice."

  Why did I keep talking? Surely no major disaster would befall me if I just ignored him, would it?

  "I’m Van," he said. Then he pointed to the other guy and said, "And this is Zach."

  What should I say next? Having never interacted with humans this way, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself on the first day. My instinct was to jump up and leave, but then they’d really think I was a kook.

  "Nice to meet you,"I said quickly.

  Van smiled. He seemed pleased for some reason. Zach sat on the other side of Van grinning at me like an idiot. Was this what all humans were like? They seemed like drooling fools to me. I was shocked they could walk and breathe at the same time.

  "There’s a party tonight," Van said. "Do you want to come?"

  A party. I said it over in my head a couple of times. I remembered seeing human parties on television. Vampires had social gatherings, but we didn’t have wild music and drinking and crazy party games the way humans did. Ours were more… civilized.

  "Umm. No, thank you,"I replied. "I have to get home after school."

  Oh, crap. Now I was really going to look like a spaz. I knew from movies, television and books that human teenagers looked down on other teens that went home early and didn’t go to parties.

  "Oh," said Van, looking disappointed. "It’s cool."

  Clearly, he had seen my rejection as personal rather than my own reluctance to throw myself into the midst of human culture so thoroughly on my first day. I hadn’t meant to offend anyone – especially when I was just getting used to interacting with the humans.

  "Wait," I said."I’ll go."

  Instantly, I regretted my decision. It was one of those times when you hear yourself saying something, and it seems like a good idea at the time, but once yo
u blurt it out you can hardly believe it was really you speaking. What was I thinking?

  Van perked up.

  "Awesome!" he said."Let me give you the address."

  He reached into his backpack and pulled out a spiral-bound notebook and a pen. He scribbled an address on the paper, and he wrote the time – eight o’clock. Then he ripped the page out and handed it to me.

  I took the paper and glanced at it. The address was familiar to me for some reason. 725 Sycamore Street. Where did I know that address from? I couldn’t remember. It probably didn’t matter, anyway.

  "It’s at my cousin’s house. It’s going to be mostly seniors like us, but there might be some underclassmen there," Van said.

  I didn’t know what to say. I thought back to the books and movies I’d seen, but nothing came immediately to mind. Oh, yeah. Seniors don’t generally like to hang out with younger students, I remembered.

  "Bummer," I said.

  "My cousin’s nineteen, so he’s not in school anymore," Van said. "But he doesn’t really care who shows up."

  "Oh," I said. I couldn’t really think of anything else to say.

  By then, other students were coming into the room and sitting down. A pretty blonde sat in front of me, and an overweight brunette girl with acne sat down at the desk in front of Van. The blonde looked at the heavier girl in disgust and stood up, choosing a desk across the room. If the brunette noticed, she didn’t let on. She had her head bent, and she gnawed her fingernails nervously.

  Pretty soon, the classroom was full. All around me I could feel body heat radiating from the other students. Thump, thump, thump. I could hear their hearts pounding. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. Their blood swished through their veins. My stomach gnawed angrily, and my mouth watered. I tried to ignore my tingling gums as my fangs tried to extend.

  The bell rang. Seconds later, a good-looking man about forty years old walked in. He sat down at the teacher’s desk and cleared his throat, waiting for everyone to be quiet. The cacophony of voices slowly died down, and the man introduced himself as Mr. Raines. He began calling out names from a list.

  "Jamie Adams,"called Mr. Raines.

  "Here," replied the brunette quietly.

  "Amanda Brit,"called Mr. Raines.

  "Here," answered the pretty blonde.

  He went through the list name by name. By the time he called my name, I knew what to do. Thank heavens my name didn’t come before Adams, or I’d have looked like a complete moron.

  "Alice Wright" he called.

  "Here," I called back.

  Whew! At least I hadn’t made an ass of myself in homeroom.

  The rest of homeroom was uneventful. Everyone chatted amongst themselves, but thankfully Van and Zach were having their own conversation and they left me alone. Jamie was the only one besides me who wasn’t prattling away. I wondered if she was purposely isolating herself, or if she was being ostracized because of her appearance.

  When the bell rang, everyone got up to leave the room. I noticed something fall off Jamie’s backpack when she stood up, and instinctively I picked it up and ran after her.

  "Hey!" I called.

  A few people glanced at me to see whom it was I was referring to, but Jamie did not. I caught up with her and tapped her on the shoulder. She stopped and turned around to face me, looking a bit startled.

  "Hey, you dropped this," I said, extending my hand, which held the item in question.

  I looked down at it, noticing it was a keychain. Several keys dangled from the end of a weird pink wiggly thing. It looked kind of like a sea urchin, but the spikes were all made of some squishy, stretchy material. It was one of the strangest things I’d ever seen.

  "Oh, thank you,"Jamie said, taking it from me. "My mother would kill me if I lost my keys again."

  Jamie turned and walked away, staring straight down at the floor as she went. She soon disappeared in the crowd of students. I felt bad for her. I had some kind of strange kinship with her. Whether she exiled herself intentionally, or was shunned by her peers – she must have felt as out of place as I did.

  Most of my classes were really boring and uneventful. Van was in my English class, and I had gym class with Jamie, Amanda, Zach, and Van. Jamie brought a note from her mother that said she must be excused from gym class because she had a bad knee. I overheard Amanda telling her friend Ashley Patterson that maybe Jamie wouldn’t be so fat if she didn’t sit out gym class. I thought that was really rude.

  At lunchtime, I looked around for a table where I could be alone. Unfortunately, someone was sitting at every single table in the cafeteria. I scanned the lunchroom looking for a span of chairs where I could at least sit without someone elbowing me while I was trying to eat.

  I noticed Jamie sitting by herself. As usual, her head was down. I didn’t see any other empty spots, but no one was sitting within 3 chairs of Jamie on either side of the table.

  "Can I sit with you?"I asked, holding my tray and peering down at her.

  She barely looked up long enough to notice it was me before saying, "I guess so."

  I sat down directly across from her and placed my tray in front of me.

  "Thanks," I said to her. "I don’t know anyone, and I really didn’t want to sit with strangers."

  Jamie poked at her hamburger with her fork, but she did not eat. She seemed to be looking longingly at the food on her tray, but she refused to take a bite. My curiosity got the better of me.

  "Something wrong with your food?" I asked.

  Jamie looked up at me and sighed. Instantly, I regretted saying anything. She looked hurt, and there was a loneliness behind her eyes that was startling. I cleared my throat uneasily.

  "I’m not hungry,"she said, turning her eyes back toward her food.

  "Oh," I answered, accepting the obvious lie. "I’m starving."

  I picked up my hamburger and took a bite. It was dried out and hard, but I was so hungry I probably would have eaten a hockey puck if I didn’t think my teeth would all break and fall out onto my tray like a cartoon character. I tried to ignore the aching hunger for blood that lingered in the back of my mind like a constant shadow.

  I noticed Jamie looking around out of the corners of her eyes. It seemed as though she was trying to see if anyone was watching her. When she was confident no one was looking, she grabbed a French fry and shoved it into her mouth. She tried to chew as inconspicuously as possible.

  I couldn’t understand this. Jamie was clearly overweight. She was hardly the only overweight girl in school, or even the largest. It was obvious she didn’t often turn down food. So why would she not just eat?

  Suddenly, I heard snorting noises coming from behind Jamie. I peered over her shoulder and Amanda and Ashley were sitting with several other girls staring at Jamie’s back. They giggled uproariously as they snorted, and the whole thing was almost surreal. It felt like a scene straight out of one of those pre-teen novels I’d read when I was a little kid. I couldn’t believe it could really happen. I always thought that kind of thing was purely fiction, and I never imagined people would actually behave that way. My gums tingled. I wanted to draw blood from every one of them.

  Jamie sat quietly for a moment, and then she stood up so quickly her chair turned over. She fled from the lunchroom, leaving her tray sitting on the table. I watched her go, and then I turned toward Amanda and Ashley and watched them exchange knowing looks. They’d gotten to Jamie, and they thought it was riotous. The whole table exploded in laughter.

  Suddenly, I didn’t feel hungry anymore. This was exactly why I had been so ambivalent about attending a human school. I thought this kind of thing was more of a caricature of human behavior made up to sell tickets to sappy teenage movies, but clearly, I was wrong. Seeing it with my own eyes made it real, and it was horrifying.

  I picked up my tray and Jamie’s, and I took them to the window where other students were dumping their finished lunches, and I handed both trays to the woman wearing plastic gloves. She took both trays and slamm
ed them against the side of a huge black trashcan and then shoved them into a black crate, which she picked up and sent through a curtain made of strips of clear plastic. She looked completely defeated. I guessed her job wasn’t the most fulfilling.

  I managed to make it through the rest of the day, but I was more than ready to go home by the time the final bell rang. Thankfully, Will was already waiting for me when I got outside.

  "So, how was your first day?" he asked.

  "It was okay," I said.

  It wasn’t exactly a lie. Part of it hadn’t been completely horrible.

  "You don’t sound so sure," he observed.

  "No, it was fine,"I said. "I just don’t understand humans."

  "Well, join the club!" he said, chuckling.

  Will had never been much for human contact, either. In fact, talking to humans was downright distracting, and sometimes humorous in a creepy way. They were food, not friends. I imagined it would be a bit like a human having a polite conversation with a cow – all the while imagining the cow as a thick, juicy steak.

  Truthfully, conversing with humans hadn’t been quite as creepy as I thought it would be. I managed to make it through an entire day without sinking my fangs into one of them, though not without considerable effort. Their behavior was disturbing, nonetheless.

  It occurred to me that I had to figure out a way to explain to Will why I was going to a human party that night. I had to go to school. Mother had insisted. He got that. But, he would never understand why I would willingly accept an invitation to interact with humans. I was sure of it.

  "Um, Will?" I blurted out. "I’m going to a party tonight."

  For a moment, he was silent, as if he were trying to decide if he’d heard me clearly.

  "You’re what?" he asked.

  "Going to a party,"I repeated. "This guy asked me, and I didn’t know what to say, so I said I would go."

  "Oh," he said. "Um…okay."

  "It’s no big deal,"I said.

  "I didn’t say it was," Will said. He sounded sincere.

  "What do you think Mother will say?" I asked.

  "Who knows?" he commented, and the conversation ended.

  When I got home, Mother was waiting in the parlor. She lounged on the sofa – a fire roaring in the fireplace, though it was nearly eighty degrees outdoors. She smiled at me when I walked in.

 
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