Regan had hit rock bottom. Of that, there was little doubt, now.
Her best friend, Emma, was the one who would always quip, “It could be worse, we could be...” and then finish with some possibility that, indeed, would have been worse. As Regan lay on her back, pressing a hand up to the satin lined ceiling a two feet above her, she tried to think of something that Emma would consider worse than this. To her memory, Emma had never said, “It could be worse, we could be dead and buried.” That was, however, little comfort.
Plus, Regan did not think she was dead. She was, after all lying here thinking. Dead people, as a general rule, do not contemplate fates worse than death, she reasoned. Buried, on the other hand, seemed a likely theory. After what had to be an hour of screaming, kicking, pounding and thrashing, she was fairly certain she was not just sitting in a box somewhere. The soft lining suggested a casket, though it seemed larger than she would have expected. Maybe it was meant to hold a linebacker or something. There were no sounds save those she made, more than likely the result of piles of dirt atop it. She should have run out of air by now, a horrifying realization that had struck her shortly into her first rounds of screams. She was still not feeling short of breath some time later, so perhaps the casket had some kind of ventilation.
Things would be infinitely better if she could see. There was no light at all in the casket and Regan lost track of when her eyes were open or closed; it made no difference. She ran her hands along sides of it more carefully this time, feeling the soft satin under her fingertips. She found nothing. Frustrated she stomped her foot and felt it hit something laid at her feet. Instinctively she started to sit up to reach for it; the firm contact between her forehead and the casket lid reminded her that she was not in a position to do that. There was just enough room to get up speed and really inflict pain when she hit the satin lined wood. She lay back in the darkness massaging what had to be a mighty bruise and reconsidered.
She tried to squirm side to side to get a hand down but found that the tulle and lace of her full length gown were taking most of the space around her legs, and the coffin was not wide enough to really let her bend very far. She had a fairly small build, all of five feet, four inches but even with a space meant for mafia thug, she was still fairly confined.
Regan paused her struggles a moment to consider further. She was in a dress, a formal dress to be exact. Her fingers explored her body, feeling the lines, the hems, the pearls. Memories started to come back to her. She was still in her wedding dress.
She replayed the last memories she had. She remembered stumbling out the back door of O’Patrick’s Pub, exhausted and frustrated. Before that, she remembered sitting at her usual stool at the end of the bar, the one she had made base camp during six years of college and graduate school. It was a pub, but more like a coffee shop with Harps on tap than a bar with an espresso machine. She thought back further, recalling the shocked looks of her parents as she had run past them out of the church. Then she remembered looking up at Harrison’s face and saying the last thing he expected to hear, “I don’t.”
That was that this had to be. Punishment for running out of the wedding. Someone’s cruel sense of reprisal for leaving her father in the lurch for the reception, or her mother-in-law-to-be on the hook for the live band that Harrison had insisted on hiring. She should just lay back and accept that this was what happened when you completely and totally screw over everyone who cares about you for no reason other than “My heart isn’t in it”.
She opened her eyes, or at least she thought she did. The pitch blackness of the casket still made it impossible to tell. She was not going to lie here and die. She was going to get out of this. Granted this was about the worst bind she had ever been in, trumping even that one time that Emma had lost the key to those “trick” handcuffs that she just had to show off, handcuffs that really were not all that “trick” at all.
Emma. Something old.
Regan reached down and began to pull up her skirts, drawing the silk, tulle and satin up her leg. Tucked into the lace garter at the top of her thigh was Emma’s first generation iPod. Borrowed from Emma, loaded with the newest release from Fun, and in a blue case, it covered all four bases of the old adage. As for the sixpence, that was actually sewn into the top of her shoe at her mother’s insistence. She turned on the iPod and then squinted as the small space was filled with dull white light. She took stock of her situation.
The white satin lining on the walls confirmed that this was, indeed a casket. Her dress was still in good shape from the waist up, but the bottom hems showed dirt and tears. There was a run in her stockings along the side of her knee, though she couldn’t see any scrapes or bruises. She blinked a few times and then looked at the small screen. A few key presses and she had the time pulled up. 1:23 am. Monday.
Regan closed her eyes and then looked again, in shock. The wedding had been on Saturday. Her last memory was over a day ago. How long had she been out? How had she not run out of air? Her family would be panicked. Emma would have posted her picture at least three times to Twitter by now. Harrison would have half of PI’s that worked for his firm out driving circles looking for her.
Would he? After she left him at altar?
She shook her head and continued to look around the small space. There was the box at her feet, still featuring the dent in the side of it where her foot had recently landed in frustration. She spread her feet out to either side and scooted her body down towards it. She could just barely lift her knees up before they impacted the top of the casket. With significant wiggling she was able to get the box pointed upwards along her leg, starting the long slow process of getting the box up to her waist. It was about as big around as shoe box, but twice as long. The cardboard was high quality, though, and the lid was held in place with a soft black velvet ribbon. There was a tag but it was impossible to read in the light available. She maneuvered her body some more so as to get the box turned where she could see the top of it, and get the light from the iPod’s screen pointed at it.
“For Regan, on your day of rising”
She stared at it a while before putting down the iPod and pulling at the ribbon. She was able to get the lid off and then picked up the music player to see what was inside.
A long black rose laid against a black velvet lining. She could make out the tag, written in the same flowing hand. “To be delivered to His Lordship Joshua Strathmore Rose, Earl of Detroit.” She set the iPod into the box so she could lift the rose out of the box and see it better. She felt something behind the lining and pulled it out instead.
A blood bag.
She watched enough House and Gray’s Anatomy to recognize it immediately. It too bore a tag. “Drink me.” Right. Like she was going to try to gnaw through a plastic blood bag to drink a pint of blood.
She laid her head back down again and stared at the lid of the casket. It was starting to make more sense. There was no ventilation because she did not need it. There was a mayor of Detroit, but no Earl. She started to giggle. Either this was a horrible practical joke or she been horribly mistaken in her dismissal of her friends’ obsessions with the creatures of the night. All those times scoffing at them rushing out to buy the latest trashy urban fantasy novel, or the hours watching the movies they spawned. She regretted the daily ritual of fleeing her cubicle when her co-worker Drake had begun another tirade of what a real vampire was compared to what modern writers were turning them into. She giggled more, remembering all the times she had scoffed when Drake had used the phrase “real vampires”, always wanting to say in response, “except vampires aren’t real.” She put her fingers to her neck, trying to find her pulse. Not finding it, she moved to her wrist and searched there, first on one wrist then the other.
She had no pulse, did not not need air and was holding a black rose addressed to the Earl of Detroit. What if there were “real vampires”?
Her giggling began to escalate to full throated laughter. She was dead. She was dead and buried after all. The runaway bride interred in her wedding dress. Could the universe possibly concoct a more cruel irony? Her laughter continued on, bringing tears to her eyes. She wiped them on the back of her hand, then noticed the dark red staining to her skin. Naturally, she would cry blood. She tried to take some long breaths to calm herself before she stained anything around her more than she already had. There was no sense appearing into the world of the night looking like a mess, at least not any more of a mess than she already was.
There it was, the pack of blood, with its imperative labelling. Regan took another breath, wholly unnecessary she knew, and brought the bag up to her lips. She bit into the tip where the IV line would go, and with surprising ease, the plastic gave way to her teeth. The salty liquid started to flow into her mouth.
When she had started dating Harrison he had invited her over for dinner. He had said he was just going to whip up some burgers and fries. To her surprise the burgers were ground sirloin, treated with minced garlic and sea salt, and then slow cooked over low heat with hickory wood chips smoking alongside them. The fries had been hand cut sweet potatoes, tossed in oil, then also grilled to perfection. She referred to the meal as “An orgasm on a bun with a side of pure pleasure.”
These were memories of one of her most intense culinary experiences, the closest she had come to pure joy while eating. Compared to the sensation of this cool blood on her tongue, Harrison may as well have served her sawdust wrapped in cardboard. She drank from the bag, swallowing greedily, every doubt of what she might be passing into oblivion. She could feel drops of the red nectar slipping out the corners of her mouth. Rather than slowing, she drank faster, more desperately, feeling the bag deflate in her hands as she drained it. Almost as quickly as she began she found herself sucking at empty plastic. Frustrated she threw the blood bag towards the feet, watching it make red marks along her dress.
Blood was coursing through her. She could feel it in her arms, her legs, her chest. She was awake. She was anxious.
She was a vampire and she was alive.
Taking hold of the satin lining above her she pulled, tearing it easily and revealing the dark wood lid. The iPod’s light cast odd shadows about it as the satin hung loosely from it. She balled her hand into a fist and punched upwards, cracking the wood and sending a shower of dirt and dust down into her own face. She was buried. Her anger was growing, anger she channeled into another punch. This caused the wood to break, pieces falling down onto her as the loosely packed dirt above the casket began to pour in on her. She leaned forward, bracing herself on one hand as she continued to beat at the lid with the other. More dirt flooded her vision as the whole was widened. She had enough of an opening to fit her shoulders. She continued to dig upwards with both hands, pulling dirt down past her into the casket and clearing a path to salvation
Steadily she worked her way up through the soil, pulling it past her as she slowly stood up on the casket’s bottom. Finally she stretched and her hand hit cool air. She was nearly out, she was nearly free. She clawed at the earth over her, pulling it down and kicking her feet against the top of the casket as she climbed upwards.
She shook her head as the dirt fell down around her, and she looked up from hole into the clear cold night. Dirt caked her auburn locks and smeared her face. Any thoughts she had spared to the state of her dress were gone now as she dragged herself out of the pit of freshly tilled soil. She knew she should gasp at the fresh air, but found her lungs needed to be told to inhale. Still she sucked at the night air, feeling it unusually cold in her body as she finally came to rest on the ground beside her grave. Rolling onto her back she looked up at the night sky, cloudless with a half moon starting to slip towards the horizon.
“Right, do we whack her?” The voice was somewhere above her. Regan reacted on instinct, rolling to her hands and knees and looking up at the speaker. Before she could stop herself she had snarled a challenge at them.
Two men stared back at her, each holding a shovel tightly in his hands. One of them stared back at her, eyes wide and mouth agape with shock, presumably with her sudden movement. The other, his head shaved, held out his shovel like a spear, cooly watching her.
“First we see if she’s crazy or not,” Baldy said. “Ya don’t wanna whack one that’s not crazy or you’ll make it crazy and then you’ve got a crazy biter on yer hands.”
“Sure looks crazy ta me,” Scaredy answered, holding his shovel close to himself as though it would provide some kind of protection.
Baldly took a step forward. “That’s just cuz she’s hungry, ain’t it, girl?”
Regan shifted her gaze back and forth between them. Hunger. She was still hungry, yes, more to eat, more to drink would be perfect. She looked at Baldly intently as she moved up to a crouching pose, her hands still on the soft earth as though ready to spring at them.
“Woah, girl,” he said taking a step forward. “Don’t be rushing.”
Reflexively she snarled at his violation of her personal space and crept backwards, putting more distance between them. Who were these men? What did they want with her? They smelled damp, sweaty.
“I told you she was crazy,” Scaredy shrieked, now lifting his shovel up over his head to swing down on her.
Baldy stood his ground. “She’s just a little startled. Just needs a drink.” He kept his eyes on hers. “Don’ you?”
Regan slowly pulled herself to her feet. She did feel a little light headed. She glanced around trying to take stock of where she was and where she could run. “I could use some more, yes,” she admitted. She made a futile effort to clear her vision by wiping a filthy sleeve across her eyes, succeeding in spreading more dirt and blood across her skin. She was in some kind of park or forest, not a graveyard as she had expected. She looked back at Baldy. “Who are you?”
Baldly stared back. “Wait, did you say, ‘More’?”
“Yes,” she answered slowly surprised at the growl in her voice. “There was some in a box for me.” She looked back at the hole she had just vacated. She had left the rose and Emma’s iPod in the casket, some six feet below them.
“You ain’t supposed to get blood til ya get outa the ground.” Baldly took a step back, now.
Scaredy still had his shovel raised. “This means we gotta whack her, right? She’s breaking the rules.”
Baldy glanced between them, his shovel still held spear-like at her. “I don’t know.”
“Who are you?” Regan repeated the question, her voice lower than she was used to hearing. The blood was starting to pound in her ears, a need to run feeling like it could overtake her. Did she have the energy to make a break? She glanced over her shoulder. There were no noticeable landmarks or other hints as to what direction to run.
Baldly put a hand up. “We’re friends. We’re here to welcome you to the night.” He clearly did not want to risk her running. He fears something more than me, she thought. He turned to Scaredy. “She’s not crazy. If she were, she’d’ve tried to tear out your neck by now.” He put his free hand into a pouch on his vest and produced a blood bag.
“Or yours,” Scaredy countered as Baldy offered the bag to Regan. She moved closer, still crouched and stretched a hand out for it.
“Nah,” Baldy answered as the blood passed to Regan’s hands. “She’s got enough instinct to go for the weak one first.” At this Scaredy dropped his shovel to his side and stared at his companion.
“Real friend you are.”
Regan drained the bag quickly, instinctively, feeling the pounding in her temples starting to slacken and quiet. She felt more herself than she had since she had awoken in the casket. She wiped her dirty hands on her dress in an effort to clear them of grime before wiping the blood from the corners of her mouth.
Baldy waited until she was finished before speaking. “I’m Larry.” He gestured at the other man. “This is Daryl, and no he’s not my brother.” Regan stared at him a moment. “We get asked that a lot,” he explained.
Regan looked at him for a few seconds. “Can you tell me what happened to me? Did one of you make me... make me into this?”
Larry shook his head. “Nah, we ain’t biters,” he almost smiled as he spoke. “Just your garden variety thralls, sent by the Earl to do what your maker should’ve done.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
“Make sure you came up okay,” Larry answered, sticking the point of his shovel into the dirt and then leaning on the handle. “Ya see, she couldn’t be here herself, so His Lordship sent us over to watch for you.”
She nodded as though it all made perfect sense. It really did not yet so she settled for crouching on the ground and listening.
Daryl spoke up. “Usually it’s the Maker that makes sure the fledgeling comes out okay and isn’t all cuckoo.”
She glanced at the shovels. “So you were going to dig me up?”
“Oh no,” Larry said quickly. “Ya gotta come up on your own or you never come up.” He looked meaningfully at the hole she had formed during her escape. “A fledgeling without blood usually only lasts a few days before the screaming stops. Most figure they give up the ghost a day or two laters.”
Regan thought about the box, the rose and the blood. Without that blood from the box she might not have had the strength to escape. “What happens to me now?” She tensed her muscles. She could still probably outrun them if she was able to slip out of her heels quick enough and avoid too many brambles.
Larry rubbed his bald head. “Well, his Lordship wants to see you, so really you can come with us peacefully, or we can beat you into coming with us. Don’t matter to me much.” He nodded at Daryl. “Matters to him though since he’ll prolly end up dead in the fight.”
Regan looked around her. Assuming she was still near Ann Arbor, the park she was in could not be much more than a few miles across before it ended in a road or a highway. She could make a run for it as well.
“Where’s my maker?”
Larry looked up at the stars and sighed. It was Daryl that answered. “Oh, the Earl had her killed last night. That’s why we’re here.”
Her eyes widened. Now she was even less sure what to do.
It seems our heroine is at a cross roads. What, dear reader, shall she do?
Choice A: Flee for her (un)life into the woods.
Choice B: Go with Larry and Daryl peacefully.
Choice C: Stand her ground and prepare for her first vampire fight.
The story continues into Chapter 1: Addendum.