All characters belong to TW.

Like sex, it's a nearly involuntary response. When we're ready, there's a vacuum so powerful it draws the eyes past open from the inside, sucked back toward the coiled, pulling emptiness that animates us. That's not the only physical change: when the eyes go black, if you have enough wits about you to notice, you will see the entire body cave in slightly from the vacuum, in anticipation of refilling. This is the body rearranging itself to create room for fresh blood. As with sex, the turnons are specific to the person. A specific sensation or emotion can set off the feeding response: for some it's violence; for some it's the smell of blood or of fear. For some, the process turns seamlessly from sex to feeding, a taking and another taking.

Inside, humans are warm, multicolored and pulsating. Open us up, and we are cold, black, and hollow, and if you listen carefully you will hear a low hiss, the sound of the energy being sucked from the environment to keep us, for lack of a more accurate word, living. We still bleed, but it's not our own blood. When we feed, each new wash of blood damps down the memories of the one before.

Heart opens blackness emerges. Endless hunger. Dark shapes flying.

Vacuum pulling sucking squeezing empty, empty, cold, empty, squalling.

Dull holes and shiny holes. Birds shrieking. Blood. Quiet.

Wake unclothed frayed bloody sated aching muzzy.

What did I do?

Oh, yeah. This again.

We're in a ballroom. We come here a lot, and are known by the bartenders, a new girl on each arm every night. The ceiling sparkles with thousands of tiny lights like artificial stars. It's early, maybe eight in the evening. The party shows evidence of an excess of money and a deficit of taste: colored oil slick projections on the walls, grass-skirted girls dancing in cages. Herrick pokes me in the ribs and says, "Look, they've already packaged up our takeaway order!"

I give a tight grin but don't answer. The smarmy little fuck killed me, and this binds me to him, and requires me to do this, but I don't have to like it. He's my jailer; I do what I'm told. There are smells of sweat, hash, cigarettes, patchouli, hairspray, spilled beer, expensive perfume. Beneath the music, a low hum and throb of bodies breathing and moving, pressed together. For us, it's like an orchard at harvest time, every night. Now it's time to get picking.

Smoke hangs in the air in a cloud over the fake stars. A band plays some jangly crap song about boats. A girl notices us. Clearly, her night has started early. She's young, late teens or early twenties, wearing a short sleeveless A-line dress, and her hard straight brown hair has gotten mussed on one side, where it sticks out in a tuft held together with hairspray. She has oversized black eyelashes glued above blue eyes with wide, wide pupils.

We watch her from the corner of the room, where we're sitting by a low table in front of the half-wall that divides the dance floor from the bar area. We are in conservative suits and ties, and she seems attracted to our out-of-place grownup look among all the rosy-cheeked unkempt boys in ladies' blouses and flared corduroy trousers. Her thick black eyeliner is smudged where she's extended it past her eyes. She still has traces of pale frosty pink lipstick. She looks from me to Herrick, back at me. I make eye contact and smile. I see her body relax slightly. Half the work's done.

She walks up to us. Another girl follows. She's around the same age as the first, freckled, with short blonde hair, walking carefully with one hand trailing on the wall to steady herself. Her yellow dress ends at a point about three inches below her crotch. She is barefoot. There's a long scrape down one of her shins. I remind myself to look at her face. Although she's stopped walking, her hand is still petting the flocked fleurs-de-lis on the wallpaper.

They're on more than wine and hash. Surrounding both of them is a haze of confusion and a very faint chemical odor. This doesn't worry us in the least. From experience, we know that the chemicals have only a minimal effect on us and, if consumed, do little but enhance our ability to see changes in the subtle energy surrounding each person, to better gauge their moods and physical states. Useful if you're a predator.

I give a welcoming smile and take the brunette's hand and pull out a seat for her. Herrick cocks his head toward the blonde, and beckons to the open spot on the sofa beside him. "Take a load off, sweetheart," he says. He goes to the bar and comes back with a couple of bottles of wine and two more glasses. He pours them each a fresh glass.

"Top you off, soldier?" Without waiting for an answer or looking at me, he fills my glass to brimming. While the girls thank him in halting, distracted voices and shakily sip at theirs, I toss back half my glass, pause, then finish the other half. Herrick fills it again.

Herrick tells them we are party magicians, which explains our attire, and that we would like to recruit them as our assistants for our next show. I light a cigarette for each girl, and one for me. Herrick makes a couple more trips to the bar for refills. "So, how do you like to spend your time?" I ask the girls. I don't usually have to say very much. They say they are costume design students at the theatre school. I nod and make agreeable sounds while the girls yammer on. The brunette stops and looks intently at a point somewhere next to my ear. "Are you magical?" she asks.

They are stoned out of their minds, so they are easy to impress. Herrick is doing sleight-of-hand card tricks for them. It's a corny routine, but they are fascinated by the shuffling, the deck arching into a whirring triangle as the cards weave together. He has one of them pick a card, tears it in two, and discovers it, restored, in his pocket. "Was this it?" he asks, waving the ten of spades in a triumphant circle. Then he stops and tops off my glass.

He has one of them hold the deck while the other selects a card, shows it to the first, and then replaces it. "Three of hearts?" he asks. He sends it wiggling up out of the deck as if it is rising on its own. The girls look at each other with eyes like saucers, and then watch him, fixated on his crisp, practiced gestures and on the fluid motion of the cards. Then the blond gets distracted. She is deeply interested in the polished wooden table top. The brunette nudges her and points. "Look! He's bossing the air around!"

I see him arch an eyebrow at me. He's decided we are ready, and I'm glad, because I would like to have done with them. "So, ladies, would you like to come help us prepare for the show? We need to gather up our props before we go on," Herrick says. He widens his eyes conspiratorially and waggles an imaginary magic wand. This is the closing of the deal. I always hate him most at this moment.

We take them to the room we call our "rehearsal space," which is a closed-off alcove in the lower level of the building, directly beneath the stage. The band hasn't finished its set, and is still jangling away. Herrick closes the door. He doesn't bother to lock it; that will just make more trouble for the cleanup crew. The girls are so high they couldn't find their way out without help. I'm holding the brunette by the arm as we walk, and she's staring all around, lurching, her eyes fixed in the middle distance. I can see the air around her shimmering slightly. Herrick brings the blonde over to a battered sofa covered in old blankets, and the other girl and I retreat to the opposite corner of the room.

She leans back against the wall and looks at me.

"You're a pretty one, aren't you?" she says. "Let me see you close up." She takes my hand and pulls me to her. She reaches through the red haze building in my field of vision as the feeding urge takes hold, and touches my face. She moves her fingers in a small circle against my cheek, carefully exploring its texture. It's an odd gesture. I can see the pulse in her neck, and feel it in her fingertips.

The hollowness is pulling at my eyes and drawing in my chest. My fangs come out.

"You made your face look different. Why did you do that?" She's not scared. Her voice is puzzled, almost accusatory.

"Did you turn on?" she asks. "I did." That's pretty obvious.

"Yeah," I say. I did, but not in the way she means. Her fingers slide down my cheek, boneless and clumsy. I'm feeling a little impatient. She's too far gone for the usual seduction routine, so I'm not sure where to start.

Then she helps me out. "Do you want to kiss me?"

I don't answer. I take her hand from my cheek, put my mouth to her wrist as if to kiss it, and bite. It should have been a smoother move, but she's not responding in the way I expect her to, and I don't anticipate it when she shifts her weight backward to look at me. I have to catch her around the waist so she doesn't fall backward. I haven't released her arm. It's awkward.

I see her eyes widen. The blood is oddly hot and stings as it goes down my throat, but I don't care. Then her free hand runs from her own bare shoulder, down the length of her bitten arm, across my face, the index finger insistently drawing a line in blood across my cheek, down the back of my neck, to the center of my back. It's tracing the path of her blood as I drink.

She pulls at my shoulder, like she's trying to get my attention. Her dilated eyes close slightly and she presses herself against me. In her state of mind, it's just another interesting thing that happens. "Oooooh. We're moving the energy around," she says, breathing raggedly. "MY energy. Into you. How about that? Into you."

Her tone is astonished but clinical, as if she has discovered a previously unknown element or chemical reaction. She's learned a new fact: My body needs this.

Her pulse quickens and weakens and I feel the fingers cooling against the side of my face as they are drained. Her other hand is still running between us, following the blood, down her arm, across my face, down my back, over and over. Then she nods absently to herself, and stops. She has come to some kind of conclusion in her mind.

"You know, I can fill you," she whispers. "You will be full of me." She locks eyes with me but doesn't register that mine are inhumanly black. She reaches between my shirt buttons, tearing one off as she pushes her free hand inside. It's cool against my skin, which is starting to warm with her blood. Her nails dig into my chest, right above where the blood pools inside, where a heart would beat if I were alive. She is trying to claw her way inside me. She brings her face close to mine, looks intently at me over her own bleeding arm.

Her eyes narrow and her voice is harsh and insistent. "Take all of it," she says. She presses her wrist hard against my teeth. I have to resist to keep my head from being pushed backward. The blood flows even faster.

This is like a film I do not want to be in. What I need is for her to shut up while I kill her.

There's a wooden cable spool being used as a table in this corner of the room, and I haul her roughly over to it and take her by the neck. As my teeth sink into her skin, she says, in the same insistent voice, "My energy is still moving. It's coming out. I'm putting it into you. I'm *pushing* it into you." And she is. The blood flows into me of its own accord, gushing forcefully down my throat. I couldn't stop it if I wanted to. She's stopped talking, but I put my hand over her mouth. I don't want to hear any more.

All the liquor in the world could not make this ok. I hate her. I hate her.

The red haze is so thick I can't see her anymore. I hear nothing but my own indrawn hiss. She can no longer speak. Her blood can't push into me anymore, but I'm still taking it from her. I'm draining HER. And draining her. She's done.

In the background I can hear Herrick having his way with the blonde. She screams, struggles a bit, and dies. He's so fucking tidy.