I stood outside the bookshop. The only one within a five kilometre radius of my house.
Incredulous, I pressed my fingers against that cold glass door, the warmth from my hands melting away the frost. I could see in now, at least, even if I couldn't step inside.
You see, I'd been there for no less than ten minutes, incapable of looking away from the sign plastered on the door. The epitome of my grief. Standing outside in the freezing cold, the first day of December, and of course, the eve of my inevitable suspension for what our curriculum coordinator calls 'successive lack of application, motivation and achievement'.
CLOSED FOR RENOVATION - we apologise for any inconveniences we have caused.
But they didn't care. Not really. Because if they did, they wouldn't be closed.
There wasn't even a smidgen of hope left for me from anyone. They thought my attitude towards work would change - that I might start to develop a 'good work ethic'. But, of course, my laziness had dug my proverbial grave, and if I didn't do something fast, I would be buried in it. Alive.
Problem is, on the very day that I felt inspired to actually do work, I was left de-frosting in two-inch slush, like an idiot.
Karma's a bitch.
Sometimes I wondered whether I had done something wrong in my past life to deserve this. Or maybe it was God's subtle way of telling me to get over myself.
But I was angry. I had a right to be angry. I had a right because if I didn't blame the shop owner or the shop itself, the only person left to blame was myself.
The suspension itself didn't burn. No. It was the fact that they'd add it to a foot long list of excuses as to why I - the deplorably underacheiving, private school alumnus - should be expelled. If that's not incentive to work, then I don't know what is.
"Erica Iolanthe Marshall!" Oh, no. I thought. "Our very lovely tutor asked me to tell you that the bookstore was closed. So she cast me outside, into the bitter cold with the burden of delivering this package to you."
She handed me a tatty hardback that was falling to pieces. I stared at it, not sure whether to be happy or disgusted.
"You can tell me that I'm such an amazing friend now." I arched a brow incredulously. "Jesus, you're hard to please. Yes! It's a bit worn, but it's better than nothing."
"Fiona, You're a life saver." I deadpanned, taking the offending article from her. She pursed her lips, gesturing for me to continue. "Thank you, o mighty Herald. What on earth would I do without you?"
"And...? Is there anything you want to do for this herald who has devoted so much of her precious time to you?"
I scowled, weighing out my odds. How far could I get away before she caught me? She was taller and I was carrying an anvil.
"How about you buy me a coffee?" She offered, before I could even lift a finger... or a toe; grabbing me by the arm. "It's freezing, and we barely got to see each other at all today. I think it would be good for the both of us. Besides it's only coffee - you'll still have time to do that assignment." I inwardly groaned at the thought.
The shop was practically empty. Though, it was still better than the streets, which seemed to radiate depression. As far as I was concerned, the depression was infectious, because every time I stepped outside, my mood would always worsen ten-fold. It would have been nice if the ticklish warmth was contageous, instead.
"Why don't we talk anymore?" Caught off-guard, I spluttered, spraying coffee over the table.
She was right, though. We didn't talk anymore. Not really.
"I miss hanging around with you."
"Nobody's stopping you." I quipped, mopping up the liquid on the table with a paper napkin. "-Oh, my bad, I forgot my place. You wouldn't want anyone to realise you have anything to do with me, would you? Because I'm a loser and I have no life."
"What? It's true." I stated, chucking the scrunched up napkin at the spotty waiter that spat on my food last week. "I'm not ashamed by it, but it looks like you are."
Fiona flushed beet-red, but kept her mouth shut. I'd hurt her feelings. Great. "You know why I have to do this, Erica. I thought you understood."
"-But that's just it." I interjected, sipping my coffee slowly this time, in the high hopes of avoiding another accident. "You're supposed to 'pilot your own life', not let other people decide how you should live it for you."
"I know but… it's those exact people that always expect things from me. I can't just do as I please all the time... as much as I'd love to. You don't get these pressures from anyone, so you don't understand." I said nothing, because she was right.
I didn't understand.
When I didn't speak, Fiona continued to talk at me. "You're still my friend, Erica. I still rely on you. And at times like these, you're the person I turn to for support."
"Maybe I'm not the person you should be turning to, maybe your family only wants whats best for you; and, from their perspective, our friendship is only holding you back. Maybe they're right."
Fiona grimaced. I took that as my cue to shut up. I'd hurt her feelings, again. Lovely to know I had a way with words.
However, it was me who had to take the initiative and try to revive the conversation. "Why don't you say something to them?"
"Are you kidding me?"
"Surprisingly enough, I'm serious."
"What a great idea!" Mock-enthusiasm oozed from her utterance like caramelised sugar. "And seeing as everything I say to you seems to be going in one ear and out the other..."
"Sorry, bad habit."
"Another one?" I'm not going to lie. I have many.
"You even have to ask?"
Fiona sighed. "I don't like fighting with you, so I'm going to be the better person and wave my white flag in surrender."
"It wasn't an apology. I was being diplomatic." She shook her head. Giving up. "Jesus. Sometimes I feel like you're trying to make me dislike you."
I laughed mockingly before finishing my coffee. "I wonder where you got that idea..." Muttering it so quietly that it was almost inaudible. Fiona didn't hear it. She was too busy staring at the boy behind the counter. And grinning. "He is pretty hot, isn't he?"
"Erica!" She hissed, turning away suddenly when he looked up. Strike two for me. My smile widened when I realised her cheeks had darkened at both my boldness and his attention.
Was I going to hang around for strike three? I thought about it. Honestly, I did - but then I caught sight of the clock in the corner of the room. Five o'clock. My shift started in five minutes.
Granddad was going to have my head.
Fiona looked up as I pressed a fiver against the surface of the table. "I'd love to stick around and chat, but I have to go. I'm sorry." She looked like she wanted to say something, but I wasn't going to wait for her to say it. I was already at the door. "Keep the change!" I added over my shoulder, before I darted out into the biting chill of winter.
Throughout the town, melted snow lined the blackened walls. I tried my best to move quickly, but it was almost impossible not to slip on the cobbles. A sudden death-trap. Oh, joy.
Unusually for a Friday afternoon, everywhere appeared to be almost completely deserted - bar the odd person. And, as I had expected, the further away I got, the less people there were. Not to mention I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Admittedly, even in a crowd, I stood out because I was the only person in the local school uniform.
Where I lived, people didn't go to schools with uniforms. They probably didn't even go to school. Me? I was lucky, but if I didn't complete my assignment, my luck would run dry and I would be out faster than I could say super-cali-fragilistic-expi-ali-docious. Um-diddy-diddily, um-diddle-eye.
The high street, however, was as empty as barren tundra. That was just plain weird, and slightly unnerving.
My pace gradually slowed until I came to a halt at one of the many clothes boutiques, having sworn that somebody was watching me. I dismissed it as being paranoid. Because, of course, everyone stays at home and does bugger-all on a Friday night. It's not like anyone goes out or anything.
Just thinking about it was making it worse.
So I tried to bring up my mood by humming (harmlessly, I thought), and steered myself around the corner.
What had me stumbling backwards in shock was the person in my way. This person had no face.
I might have peed myself, if it hadn't occured to me that the face was probably hidden by the shadow of their hood.
"Watch where you're going!" someone yelled in the distance. I thought it was the stranger in front of me, but he hadn't moved an inch. That didn't register with me as normal.
Still suffering from shock - and under the impression that I had done somthing to offend it - I mustered a pathetic, "I'm so sorry. I didn't realise that I was in your way." But whoever-it-was remained totally inert. I couldn't even tell if they were breathing.
Deciding that waiting around for a proper reply would not only be a waste of my time, but completely pointless, I hurried on - not wanting to turn back.
I could feel it watching me. That feeling was making me sick.
What was up with that creep? My mind hammered away at various theories as I fumbled clumsily for my keys. I had accumulated so much junk that I couldn't even feel the bottom of my bag. Great. The day I realise it would be a good idea to get organised is the day I get spooked by scary people that may or may not have followed me home.
After emptying half the contents of my bag, I caught sight of a glimmer of brass. It seemed like an awful lot of trouble for two measley pieces of metal, but - right then - they were two very important, measley pieces of metal.
"I'm home!" I yelled out of habit. It wasn't a bad habit - more a knee-jerk reflex.
Granddad didn't bother poking his head around the door, but I managed to catch a loud grunt acknowledging my arrival. "I'm sorry if I'm late." Then he made his appearance, barging through the workroom door with his favourite mug in hand.
"Just in time, actually. I heard there was going to be a storm tonight. It's awfully lucky you didn't get caught up in it, mind you. Everyone I know is staying home." That explained it! And there was me thinking that a mid-town massacre had occurred during school hours.
"Does that mean that we can close up now?"
"Not so fast, kiddo." He chortled, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, "we never know when we will get a customer, and I'm not going to let some storm sway me into missing that opportunity."
"-But Granddad!" I whined, pulling a face. "Didn't you say that no one you knew was going to leave the house?" He pulled a face to match mine.
"That doesn't stop the people we don't know." We - meaning he.
"-But, it's a fact that nobody that you don't know has ever stepped foot into this store." Granddad left as soon as I had started talking back. I knew he wasn't being rude, he just knew me too well.
So, like the good girl that I wasn't, I settled down and made a start on the homework.
It must have been about two hours after the storm started when I realised something wasn't right.
It was too dark, too soon - and with only a paragraph left, I was easily distracted...
... especially by the metallic smell that was creeping in, under the door.
It smelt like… blood. But I couldn't be sure because it was faint, growing fainter. The rain had nearly erased it completely, but somehow I could still taste it at the back of my mouth. Or maybe that was just my fear.
The droplets pounded angrily against the windows, blurring shapes into one another until they became one single, unidentifiable image.
My paranoia was spiking. I couldn't even look away from the window anymore - having lost complete focus on the paper in front of me. It wasn't even interesting to start with, but now I was never going to finish it.
What's happening outside?
A brilliant flash and deafening crack stunned me for about a millisecond, blocking out the tinkering of the bell as the door opened.
When I came to, my jaw went slack, because I was staring at one of the most gorgeous men in the world (dare I say it, even hotter than the guy in the coffee shop). His dark hair was drenched and sticking to godlike features, the almost see-through - from all the water - t-shirt showed off the well sculpted build beneath it.
I could not stop staring.
He grinned widely, bright green eyes flashing in the lack of light. I almost fainted. "I came here to make a purchase."
And then I noticed it.
I couldn't believe that I had missed it… the trail of red that he had left as he entered the room. Shaking slightly, I edged around the counter, past the god, and hesitantly opened the door.
Welcomed by a blast of a vile stench that, even during a downpour, hung thick in the air, I looked down, only to be knocked back into the room, slamming the door behind me faster than I could say 'bloody hell!'.
Bloody Hell indeed.
outside our door on the front step lay a butchered… human… the gender wasn't even clear anymore, the only thing that gave it away was the untouched hand that rolled lifelessly onto the cobbles.
Any colour that might have been on my face no longer existed.
Surpressing a scream and my own bile, I let my eyes meet the mysterious intruder in front of me with a frightened glance. I needed to do something, but my mind was screaming: no! I don't want to die! "How can I help you?"
"I already told you that, didn't I?" My heart beat was erratic, and I was pretty sure I wasn't breathing. I even started counting sheep, for all the good that would do me. "I want to make a purchase."
"Is there anything… specific that you are looking for?" Slowly, I had to back away slowly, back to the desk; because, somehow, it felt safer being with my assignment than it did being with the beauty that had just waltzed in through the doors.
He reaked of death. "You already know the answer."
Cold sweat trickled down my back as I attempted to reply without sounding afraid… without giving away the fact that I already knew more about this stranger than I would have ever liked to. My mind shrieked, he'll kill you! Run away now!. "I have no idea what you are talking about." I said.
I thought I meant it. "You're lying." But apparently not. Somehow, the space that I had created between us had been filled. I was weak and vulnerable… and shit scared. "I can tell." Then he paused for a moment, waiting. For what exactly? I don't think I wanted to know. "Perhaps you would prefer it if I told you?"
I was thunderstruck, almost literally. As soon as he had opened his mouth, another blinding flash filled the room, setting his crimson eyes alight… crimson. But they were green, right? they had been green, hadn't they?
I mean, it's not like there's an actual condition where your eyes change colour every time lightning flashes. I'd believe that when pigs fly.
"Your eyes…" I murmured, mesmerized.
"I take that as a yes, then." He moved closer. I shuddered, paralysed with terror and a tinge of curiosity. "I want your life."
I was actually going to die.
Like all of my fellow predecessors, I tried to run.
Well, I tried, and I failed, as is the way of mother nature - blessing predators with unfair advangtages. He, obviously, had caught me. Trapped me.
He pulled me closer, closer, wrapping his arms around me, caging me like a small animal. "STOP!"
He stared back at me in bewilderment; and I mirrored it, still petrified by the proximity of his body. If anything, I looked more surprised than he did.
"What?" He snarled. Last time I had checked, normal people did not snarl. "Oh, I'm sorry, but I'm not big on the whole last words sort of thing."
It was the derision that made me think clearly.
He could rip my head off, but I was not just going to roll over and let him talk to me like I was an idiot. Inconsistent? Yes. Did I care? No.
Even with the anger boost, I still didn't pack any punch at all. In fact, my response was so sad that it made me cringe. "It's not that… well, maybe it is… it's just that, if you're going to take my life and all, then…" I looked up at him, and forgot that I was angry. I forgot everything. Suddenly I was wishing I had skipped lunch.
"-Then what?" Oh God, he was angry. Stupid Erica. Stupid, stupid Erica.
Clearly, faced with death, I had become an entirely different person. In the end, I covered my mouth like a startled child (as if that would help).
He hadn't protested, in fact, he was smiling? "How can I kiss you if you cover your mouth?" The shock was obviously doing a number on me, because I could've sworn that he had just accepted my request.
I just stared at him as if he had slapped me. "Wait... what did you say…?"
He said nothing.
I could feel my heart beating so fast that I thought it might actually fracture one of my ribs. What is happening? What the hell is happening? I tried to find reason, but found nothing. My brain was unresponsive, just like the rest of me.
Unable to do anything, my arms hung limp at my sides. His snaked around my waist, capturing me, holding me closer - if that was even possible.
He wasn't warm. He was cold... just a little, but I was shivering. Not hypothermia all-your-limbs-freeze-and-fall-off cold - but with no heating and the fact that he was drenched to the bone, if he didn't kill me, I was at serious risk of dying by accident instead of his hand. Pnuemonia was no laughing matter. "Just fulfilling a last request." He whispered against my ear, before pressing his lips against mine.
so warm, was the first thought that came to mind. Probably the only thought that came to mind as the combination of confusion and anticipation had caused my brain to implode. It was like he was two different body temperatures, and I wasn't able to process that.
Even the best computers don't bode well under stress.
So, in a nutshell, a dangerous killer had just walked in through the shop door, threatened my life, and now he was kissing me? Talk about a peculiar turn of events.
And then, the lips were gone, and he was smirking. "You're an interesting girl, Erica."
Ha-ha. Very funny. I'm the interesting one... wait. What? "How do you-?" Know my name...?
"I've decided that I'll let you keep your life." It was fair to say I had forgotten about that, but it was nice to know I was going to live to see another day.
What bothered me was that I was trying to decide whether I should express my gratitude or scream. Screaming sounded good, but then he might not be so kind.
"For now." Oh. Crap."You're mine, Erica. Don't forget that."
And he was gone.
And I was left speechless, at the mercy of a psychopath.
A/N: thanks for reading x
(sorry for the re-update - I'm a perfectionist, what can I say? I thought I#d fixed this... and realised I hadn't. Silly me