Chapter 1: Prelude to a Vampire

Volterra, Italy - 1955

Tara Spaulding sat on the bed of her hotel room, overlooking the clock tower in the square of Piazza dei Priori. She gazed out the window at the giant fountain in the center of the square. The water droplets glistened in the sunlight as they shot up into the sky and then fell back down into the pool below it. Beautiful. Like diamonds, she thought.

It was her 16th birthday. The trip to Italy was gift from her parents, one she desired since she was a little girl. At the age of three, her parents discovered she had a talent for art when she took interest the Renaissance artists, remembering all their names and paintings almost as quickly as she learned the alphabet. Early on, her parents knew she was gifted, possessing the ability to draw anything from memory having the ability to capture every detail in her mind, even after seeing it only once and she normally spent countless hours of her days drawing or painting.

Tara's father was Huntley Spaulding, the owner of a large fiber company in New England. He was good man whose assets were never of greater value to him than that of his own values and love for his family. Her mother Anna also had a love for the arts and was excited to be able to tour some of the most famous and inspiring works in history with her daughter.

As Tara sat in her room, waiting for her parents to take her to breakfast before heading into the city; she took out her set of oil pencils and sketched the fountain in the square. Her hand whisked over the paper as she drew incessantly. Before she could finish the drawing, her parents both entered greeting her with smiles and traditionally singing Happy Birthday to her. Her mother slowly walked in carrying a cake with both hands, trying not to let the candles go out. Her father carried a tiny wrapped present in one hand and an envelope in the other as he approached.

Tara excitedly set her sketches aside so she could see what surprises they had for her. After she blew out the candles on the Dutch chocolate cake, (her favorite) her father handed held out the tiny gift box. The paper fell to the ground as she quickly tore it off and then anxiously opened the lid. Inside was tiny gold locket. The front of it had three letters engraved on top, T.E.S for her initials; Tara Elizabeth Spaulding. When she opened the locket, it contained a photograph of her parents that was taken only a few months ago. With her mother's help, she put it around her neck.

The final and biggest gift however was the one in the envelope. He handed it to her and she peeked inside pulling out three tickets. They were for a private tour of an art exhibit, exclusively for distinguished tourists only as her father explained. In reality though, it meant he bribed several in people in order to find her the perfect present. Tara and her mother were extremely excited about seeing this exhibit as Huntley told them they'd being seeing some oldest and most famous collections in history.

After breakfast, they spent the morning touring the Pinacoteca, an art gallery in Palazzo Minucci-Solaini that was founded in 1905 and consists mostly of works by Tuscan artists from 14th to 17th centuries. Then by sunset, they headed to the Roman Theatre where they were scheduled to meet with their tour guide at approximately six o'clock in the evening. As they arrived, they spotted their docent standing out front, eagerly waiting for them. The macabre looking man truly stood out among the crowd of people in his hooded, black cloak and dark spectacles. "Are you Mr. Spaulding?" he said in a voice that sent a chill down Tara's spine.

"Yes, I am, and this is my wife Anna, and my daughter Tara," Huntley replied

The man held out his chalky white hand. "Greetings, I'm Demetri." Huntley shook it.

"A bit chilly tonight is it?" he asked, noticing the man's hands were like ice.

"Indeed," he replied as he grinned from behind his hooded cloak. The unusual pair of spectacles he wore completely covered his eyes. Tara thought it odd that he wore them, since the sun had already set behind the horizon.

"It's a pleasure to be your escort for the evening. Is this your first trip to Volterra?" he pried.

"Yes it is," Huntley said. "It's also my daughter's sixteenth birthday today. I was hoping to find a special event for her this trip and your tour sounded absolutely amazing. I was wanted to make this a very special experience for her."

Demetri inhaled deeply as though he were savoring a delicious aroma then looked right at Tara when he spoke. "Ah, sixteen….such a momentous year. Happy birthday young one," he hissed, flashing his teeth at her. She only stared at the man in silence. Her heart beat sped up as he grinned and then twirled around on his heals signaling for them to follow.

The street lights came on as the night began to fall on the city. Demetri guided them through the dark, unfamiliar streets of Volterra taking them on a long walk that veered off the cobblestone walkways and into labyrinth of narrow alleyways that were no longer lit up. Anna put her arm around her daughter's shoulder as they walked, trying not to lose sight of their tour guide. Tara clung to her mother's side starting to feel nervous about where he was taking them. Just before reaching their destination, Demetri turned to face them and smiled. "I assure you, this will be a night you'll never forget." He then signaled them to follow him through a giant wrought iron gate at the entrance of a very antiquated looking palace. Huntley and Anna returned a pleasing smile to the man but Tara didn't smile back. She couldn't quite figure out what it was, but she felt something unsettling about him.

When they entered the aged building, Tara observed every detail. The brightly lit foyer was covered in wood paneling and the floors were carpeted with a lush green tapestry. She gazed at several spot-lit paintings of the Tuscan countryside that hung on the walls. Tara quickly noticed there was not a window in the place - not anywhere.

As they followed Demetri down a long corridor, he finally removed the hood of his cloak, exposing his thick black, wavy hair that stopped at his shoulders. He left the dark spectacles on his face oddly enough, even though they were indoors.

A low chatter of many voices could be heard in the distance. It came from more tourists. All of them headed in the same direction, piling into a large, round room at the end which looked as aged as the rest of the place but masked with many pieces of modern decor and art. Several glossy tables arranged about the room held crystal vases on top of them, containing vibrantly colored bouquets of fresh flowers. Some of the guests sat comfortably on the dark leather couches that were arranged in a cozy grouping around a large Asian rug that was centered in the room. They all seemed to be waiting for something.

Demetri stopped to speak again. "Ah, here we are. Now, if you will all just wait right here a few moments for the main event, I promise it won't be long." He waved his hand at several pieces on the wall. "Please feel free to look about and enjoy our small collection here in the waiting room until we begin the main event."

As he left, the heavy double doors they came through closed shut with an echoing sound and the people in the room continued to mingle, chattering amongst themselves and looking about the room. Anna pointed at some of the paintings on the walls and tugged at Tara's arm to come look at them with her but she wasn't the least bit interested in them. An unusual odor in the room turned her stomach as she breathed and a sick feeling sank in her gut. She no longer wanted to stay. "Mom, I think we should leave. I don't like this place, it's really creepy," she said tugging on her mother's sleeve.

"But why? I think it's absolutely beautiful sweetie. Don't you? It's very majestic."

"No, I don't like it. Something doesn't seem right. Can we just go back to the hotel?"

Anna whispered so Huntley couldn't hear. "Honey your father paid a great deal of money for this. It's your birthday present, don't ruin it for him. It's all a bit mysterious but I think its all part of the show. It'll be fine, sweetie you'll see."

She rubbed her daughter's arm trying to sooth her but Tara didn't feel quite so secure as her mother. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up as she scanned the room. There was a mural painted on the vaulted ceiling above their heads and a balcony that circled the room with several doors on the upper level, all closed. She also spotted two more doors on the opposite wall of the room, tightly secured as well.

Several moments passed while they waited when suddenly she noticed the creaking sound of hinges as they turned with a door. Then seconds later, she heard another. She glanced at the large entry door they came in. It appeared to be secured still. She turned to look at the other two at the back of the room but they were also shut tight. Before she even had time to look up and check the balcony, she heard the screams coming from every direction. Panic set in the room. People pushed and shoved each other, running everywhere.

At first, she didn't know why. She wondered if the building had caught fire, though it seemed impossible, considering the entire place was crafted in stone. When she scanned the room to look for the source of the mayhem, she caught a glimpse of the creature just before it attacked. It crawled out from a hole in the floor that had been strategically hidden under the giant rug. The figure appeared to be human at first; its ghostly white complexion reminded her of their tour guide but something else about it became very apparent to her - its eyes. They like nothing she'd ever seen before. They were completely demonic. The irises were a deep crimson around the edges, darkening until they were black around the pupil and they were completely focused on her mother. The creature crashed through one of the leather couches as it targeted her, easily smashing through it like it were made only of toothpicks. The creature snarled, exposing a row of razor sharp teeth just before it reached her mother and sank them into her throat.

"Momma!" Tara shrieked in horror.

"Anna! No!" her father yelled as watched the creature take her down. Before Huntley could get to his wife, another one leaped from the balcony and landed on a man in front of them as he ran towards the exit. The creature bit the man's arm but it didn't eat the flesh. It only appeared to be draining his blood. When Tara screamed again she caught the creature's attention and it eyes panned up from its meal. Blood dripped from its mouth.

Unable to move, she stood paralyzed by fear as it growled at her. Without even thinking Huntley grabbed Tara by the arm, pulling her as he headed for the entry way in which they came through. He wanted to get his daughter out of the room before the creatures could kill her too. Not knowing if Anna was still alive or not, he would go back for her once he knew his daughter was safe, but he knew he had to get her out of the room first.

Huntley could not find any handles or knobs on the towering doors. He tried squeezing his fingers between them to pull them apart, but they didn't budge. The lock on other side had been bolted shut.

Fewer screams echoed though the room now as the creatures spread about, feeding on the tourists. While Huntley still searched for a way out, Tara spotted one of them feeding on a young boy. It looked up and fixed its scarlet eyes on Tara. Unsatisfied by its small meal, it tossed the child to the side and lunged for her. The creature ripped the sleeve from her shirt and bit into her shoulder. Tara screamed as the pain seared though her arm. She felt as though someone shoved a hot poker in her shoulder.

"Tara!" Huntley yelled as he thrust his body at the creature. To no avail, he struggled to pull it off her. His actions only angered the creature as he disturbed its prey. Suddenly, the creature let go of Tara and lunged at Huntley. Her father struggled as the blood drinker latched onto him.

Tara screamed in horror as she lay on the ground, twitching and watching her father being ravaged. "Hide Tara!" her father breathed his last words before it plunged its teeth into the base of his neck, "Hide!" he gurgled and then exhaled his last breath.

She wanted to run for the doors at the other end of the room but she could barely move. The pain crippled her as it began to spread through her entire body. She crawled under the large mahogany table next to her and curled into the fetal position. She lay there helpless under the shoving her fist in her mouth to muffle her screams as the fiery venom traveled through her veins.

Tara watched in terror as the creatures took down every last person in the room. They ignored her however. It was as if they couldn't see her or didn't notice she was there. Finally, her vision faded into blackness. The only thing echoing in her head her head over and over were her father's last words to her.

"Hide Tara, Hide!"