God, the smell.
The aroma of smoldering flesh still drifting from earlier in the day in another part of the city, the stink of the nearby sewer and the emptied contents of chamberpots strewn across the streets, the reek of the burning oil of their torches… the dank vapors curled in the tense air around them, stinging their nostrils and making them feel sick. Their muscles screamed from crouching behind the cart for hours, and twelve pairs of eyes were trained in fear on the sewer opening. But none of them dared to move. None of them dared to speak.
All was silent but for the crackling of their torches, until a sudden movement within the gaping hole to the sewer made them hold their breaths, tensing in apprehension. Only moments later, a figure appeared out of the pitch black, dark and beautiful. The two men concealed above the sewer entrance jumped down onto the cobblestone street, their weapons held high should the monster attack. The dozen men hiding behind the cart followed suit, pitchforks and torches at the ready, and attempted to encircle the creature.
Instead of attacking, the monster screamed a high-pitched wail of outrage at the circle of humans surrounding it, and then it called back into the reeking tunnel in Latin, a warning in a language that the men didn't understand. Then it ran.
The leader of the humans was the first to take off after it, a sharp pitchfork clutched tightly in his hand, and his youth allowed him to run far ahead of the mob. The monster was still much faster and was rapidly gaining distance, but the young man still pursued, his militia hot on his heels. Abruptly, the creature stopped and turned to run back towards the leader, who didn't have time to leap out of the way or even slow down before they met head-on.
The human cried out in pain when the monster collided with him – it was like plowing into a boulder with full force, and he could feel several of his bones snap. A deep, sinister snarl was echoing from within the monster's throat and roaring in the young man's ears, and he could feel his human flesh being ripped from his neck. The only thing he could do was scream.
Moments later, the rest of the mob closed in, and the monster dropped him to the ground with a searing crunch. The young man continued to scream – now, the pain of his broken bones disappeared beneath the fire spreading throughout his body. He was barely aware of someone gently sliding a hand under his back and attempting to hold him down as he thrashed, saying his name over and over again. "Carlisle! Carlisle!"
But how could he respond? He writhed, unable to think, to see, to hear. Tears streamed down his cheeks as his blood boiled and his insides turned to ash. His eyes bulged, unseeing, and his mouth stretched wide as he screamed and screamed and screamed.
Hours (he thought) passed before he couldn't scream any longer, although he tried. Good Lord, he tried. The blazing, searing pain hadn't subsided – hadn't even begun to fade – but his voice had at long last been burned away. Through the smoke he was eventually able to tell that whoever had been holding him down was no longer there. He was alone.
His father would order that anything touched by the monster be destroyed, and he was certainly no exception. Crying out hoarsely as he moved, his broken bones grinding, he slowly pushed and pulled himself away from the pool of his blood rippling in the street.
He should have been dead by now.
Why, oh, why couldn't he be dead?
Where am I?
His eyes flew open and saw only darkness.
Minutes past, and finally his pupils adjusted, taking in the low stone ceiling, the disgusting stink of rotting vegetables filling his nostrils. Stiffly, he pushed himself up into a sitting position and looked around. He was in a root cellar, heaps of aged potatoes surrounding him and emitting the worst odor he'd ever smelled. Suddenly, the memories of earlier flooded his head, and he remembered the pain, the burning, the screaming. It was gone now, but he was more confused than relieved. He reached up to feel his neck where the creature had bitten him – it was unhurt and undamaged. He felt his ribs, his legs, his arms… Not a single broken bone. There was no pain at all.
What was going on?
Was he dead?
With a small grunt of effort, he hauled himself to his feet and brushed a few wet potato skins off his soiled clothes, heading for the steps out of the cellar.
When he emerged onto the street, it was nighttime, and the urban stink was a thousand times worse than it had been in the cellar. He covered his nose, but it did nothing to block out the foul stench. It was the same place where the mob had confronted the monster from the sewer, but there was no trace of their struggle. The pool of blood that he had left behind was gone, washed away by the frequent London rain that left puddles of water covering the street.
Frowning, his eyes traveled over his surroundings – it was the same street, the same city, but… everything was more defined than before, crystal clear, with each miniscule characteristic of every object within his line of sight emphasized. The cracks in the stones at his feet, the grain of the wood in the cart that the mob had crouched behind, and the sounds! A tiny scratching from within the nearby sewer signaled the scurrying of a rat, a couple making love in a building close by, and further down the street, quiet, leisurely footsteps. He turned in the direction of the footfalls, and saw, very far off, a constable on his nightly rounds heading his way.
A light breeze from the Thames wafted towards him, and suddenly he reeled back on his feet as an aroma slammed into him with full force, so sweet and mouthwatering that it sent him to his knees, the stones beneath him cracking, his hands clamped over his nose and mouth. The constable heard his strangled cry and rushed towards him, the fragrance growing stronger and stronger as he drew close.
"Sir, are you hurt?"
The man kneeling in the street ground his teeth, emitting a sound akin to two rocks scraping across each other, and let out a deep growl of pain, his fists pressed against his temples. A hunger like he had never felt before was bubbling in his throat, wanting, yearning.
He wanted to kill this man.
To kill him…to drink—
"Sir, I must take you to a doctor, you're ill—"
The constable was interrupted by a snarl ripping from the man's throat, and faster than he would have thought possible, the man was on his feet, grabbing the constable by the front of his coat and throwing him up against the wall of the nearest building. The constable cried out as two or three of his ribs cracked, and the man's jaws closed around the constable's trachea.
A warmth spread throughout the young man's body as he drank greedily, tasting sweet copper and rich iron and pulsing heat. His newly sharpened teeth cut effortlessly through muscle, sinew and cartilage, tearing his prey's veins open to release the bounty that flowed freely within.
Moments later, he stepped back, the constable's lifeless body sliding to the ground, and sighed heavily, his stomach satisfied. His eyes lifted up towards the sky, and an overwhelming sense of guilt wrapped its suffocating fingers around him. Afraid, he turned back to see what he had done. At the sight of the constable slumped against the wall, dark blood staining his clothes, his eyes glazed over and his throat torn to pieces, he let out a cry of anguish, and ran.
Through the guilt and the panic, he was amazed at how the buildings flew past, fading into a blur as he ran through the damp London streets. Finally, the river came into view, and he slowed to a stop on the bridge, leaning over the edge and watching the water drift beneath him. His reflection stared back at him from the river's surface, more clearly than it should be from that distance, a pale-faced monster with bright red eyes and warm blood dripping down his chin.
Hastily, he wiped the remnants of his savage meal off his face as best he could, only succeeding in spreading it further as the blood dried on his marble skin.
What was he?
The—the monster… It must have… must have venom, must have turned him into… into this.
Oh, God, no.
Was he doomed to an eternity of this? Of ruthlessly killing innocent people in dark alleyways and living under the cover of night? What could he have done, the simple son of a pastor, to deserve this? Oh, God, and what would his father do? He had become the very object of the hunts that his father had led and then put him in charge of – he'd be burned at the stake without hesitation.
He looked up and saw that the sky was growing rosy pink – the sun would be climbing over the London rooftops soon, and there were already several people out and about. The sweet aroma of their pulsing blood wasn't as luring now that his belly was full, but just the same, he ran away from them, disappearing into the back alleys of the city and heading for the only home he knew.
The church was quiet and empty, not yet lit by the morning light, but the young man's new and unnaturally keen eyes had no trouble seeing in the gloom. He knelt at the altar, gazing up at the wooden cross that his father had carved himself years ago. He clasped his bloodstained hands and bowed his head, praying with more ferocity than ever before.
He didn't know how long he was there, his whispered pleas the only sound, before a voice interrupted him from the doorway.
"Carlisle! I was told—"
He turned around to see his father, cloaked in his plain everyday robes, having just entered for his morning prayer. At the sight of his son's blood red eyes and the dried crimson smeared across his chin, the old pastor blanched, fighting the urge to run.
The young man stood, making the pastor take two steps forward and pull out the simple crucifix he kept within the folds of his robe. "Back, devil!" he demanded, brandishing the cross and advancing. "Back to the Hell from whence you came!"
"No, Father, please—" his son repeated.
"Do not tempt me with your villainous trickery!" the pastor seethed. "You are a demon! A devil sent in the guise of a dead boy!"
"Father!" the young man yelled, his scarlet eyes pleading as the pastor lifted the crucifix high above his head. "It's me! It's your son!"
"LIES!" the pastor roared. "But I will not be swayed!" Then he closed his eyes, holding the cross high, and began to pray loudly. "O Father, who art in Heaven, send this spawn of Satan back to the fiery depths; expel him from our Earthly home, and banish him forever—"
"PLEASE, Father!" the pastor's son cried. "Please don't do this!"
"—may he be sent back into Satan's grip and never released, may he be forever fallen from Your grace," the pastor intoned, his voice growing louder and louder. "Send him back into Hell, and let him never be free again!"
With his last holy request, the pastor opened his eyes and brought the cross down with all the strength he possessed towards his son's chest. The younger man's reflexes were lightning quick, however, and his hand whipped up, locking the pastor's wrist in his iron grip. Little did he know that had the wooden cross actually hit his body, it would have splintered into pieces rather than having the effect desired by the pastor.
"Father," he whispered, looking the pastor in the eyes. "Please."
The pastor was silent, held in the young man's mesmerizing blood red gaze, his arm frozen where it was stopped. "Leave here," he hissed. "Leave, and never return."
The man's face fell, pained but not surprised, and he released his father's arm. Without a word, he circled around the altar, reaching up and lifting the more detailed crucifix from the wall. He turned it over in his hands and held it up for the pastor to see. "May I have this?" he asked quietly.
A muscle in the pastor's jaw twitched, and he said nothing, keeping his wide, fearful eyes on the creature claiming to be his son.
The young man sighed, gently hugged the cross to his marble chest, and vanished out the door.