The life is in the blood.
Cold. The blade felt cold against Ally’s skin. Ever so slightly, she increased the pressure on her arm until she saw dark red liquid pool around the point. Gently, Ally drew a line across her wrist with the knife. The thick liquid slowly oozed from the wound, dripping from her arm to her pants.
The life is in the blood.
Ally licked her lips, her tongue running across her sharp canine teeth. Her blood lust flared at the sight of the liquid. But her blood was thick. Ally had starved herself for a week, waiting for this moment. For years she had been driven by this need for other’s life, but she had finally discovered a way out. She would be given a second chance at a real life.
Three years ago Ally had been seduced into the circle of blood suckers. She was intrigued by the confident power her acquaintance Rhyder had; he was a natural leader, but there was something more lurking behind his mysterious allure. Rhyder told her that he sensed locked potential in her; he immediately volunteered to be her donor. Under the direct tutorship of Rhyder, Ally learned quickly how to use her new power. She eventually became dependent upon the crimson drink Rhyder gave her.
He began by creating her dependency on blood. “The life is in the blood,” he told her. At first Ally didn’t notice anything special about drinking blood; she felt no power being released. She constantly questioned Rhyder, and his response was always the same: she would feel her power released the first time her fangs broke flesh and tasted fresh blood. But she couldn’t do that until her body had a need to drink blood. He kept telling her that she wasn’t ready to feed fresh on her own yet.
Finally, after weeks of drinking cold blood from a glass, Ally demanded that Rhyder allow her to feed. A grin played across Rhyder’s mouth; she was ready. He promptly directed Ally to her friend Sara. Ally had always thought Rhyderliked Sara, but she obeyed him and began watching for her opportunity. Sara organized several local mission outreach activities; this particular night she was alone finishing posters for the upcoming food drive. Ally felt a twinge of guilt about attacking this poor, innocent girl, but Rhyder assured her there would be no permanent damage and her pain would be minimal. He was right; Ally left Sara asleep at her desk and the next day she was fine.
Ally had experienced the power. The warm blood pumped into her mouth by the victim’s heartbeat was intoxicating. Ally licked her lips every time she thought about the sweet juice. She had made Rhyder proud. Ally’s power high from her first feed lasted over a month. It was nearly five weeks before she asked Rhyder if she could feed again.
The intervals grew shorter and shorter until Ally craved fresh blood every day. It was then Rhyder showed her how to increase her victim’s pain. Ally felt no remorse extending the anguish of her prey – it heightened her power high. In the course of ten months Ally had progressed from drinking Rhyder’s donated blood from a glass placed before her to stalking her former friends in order to suck blood from their throats. Naturally, these victims never suspected the throbbing neck aches they woke up with were from sweet, innocent, kind Ally Leighton. And it all started at this very table…
Ally shuddered at the memory of Rhyder placing a full glass before her in the same place she sat now. Except now she was trying to undo what he had done three long years ago. He had created a monster, and she wanted to recreate herself as a human being. Ally tried to will her heart to pump her thick blood out of the cut in her wrist faster. When she filled the glass she would be one step closer to being normal. She needed to get the blood out of her so that she could return it to where it had come from. The plan sounded repulsive to her, but if she wanted to be human again she needed to return blood to each of her victims. Shockingly simple, Ally needed only to back a batch of cupcakes with this secret ingredient. She wrinkled her nose at the thought – it seemed so – so – what was the word? Weird? Gross? Repulsive? Disgusting? No.
It seemed so easy. This wasn’t supposed to be easy. She took another deep breath and exhaled slowly, still willing her thick blood into the cup. This excruciating pain was nothing compared to the lasting joy brought about by the knowledge that she would soon be human again.
Distracting herself from the temporary pain, Ally thought of the recipients of her special cupcakes. Danielle would be first. Her favorite victim had been a vain an clueless girl; Ally fed on her frequently, enjoying Danielle’s pain. Ally winced at the thought; she and Danielle had once been close friends. They had shared all their secrets as young girls. Ally used this against Danielle time and time again. When Ally became a vampire, she had already acquired a deep distain for Danielle – one nursed by Rhyder. According to Rhyder, not only was this girl a vain, spiteful, backstabbing wretch, she was also quite dense. Despite all the cruelty she had inflicted on those close to Ally, Danielle assumed they were the best of friends.
Nothing could have given Ally more pleasure at the time than the first time she sank her fangs into Danielle’s neck. Rhyder had thoroughly prepared her for this moment. Ally was able to inflict the greatest possible agony upon her victim with the longest lasting pain conceivable. The recovery would have taken months to occur, but Ally could not rest. Danielle seemed to be asking for more pain, and Ally happily played along.
Rhyder encouraged the game. He too possessed a deep distain for Danielle and took great pleasure in Ally’s descriptions of stalking her prey. One night Rhyder had grown particularly excited by Ally’s tales and insisted that she repeat them over and over. Ally could not guess the reason for his excitement, but obediently repeated the story late into the night. When Ally awoke the next morning she was alone and her head was throbbing. She knew instantly that Rhyder had fed on her.
Nausea overtook her when she tried to stand up, forcing her to return to the couch from which she rose. Hundreds of questions rushed through her mind; her head was swimming; she couldn’t think straight. Ally forced herself to concentrate, to sort through the events despite the pain – the pain? Instead of just drinking her blood and allowing her to heal in her sleep he had deliberately inflicted pain? It didn’t make any sense. None of it made sense.
Think, Ally, she commanded herself.
Why had Rhyder fed on her?
Why had he inflicted pain?
For more power.
Why hadn’t he just told her?
For more power yet. But this was just too much; he wanted psychological power over her, not just vampiric power from her blood. Rhyder knew he controlled Ally; she had no one else to turn to, no one she could trust. Without him to trust, she would have nothing and she would be broken. A blood slave for him to possess.
Or so he thought.
Ally’s thoughts shifted back to the present. The pain Rhyder had inflicted on her was no more than a pinprick in comparison to her current anguish. Ally laughed darkly to herself thinking that she had only had a pinprick everyday for the last two years. Now as she continued to slowly fill this large glass before her it occurred to her that she would never feel that pinprick again. And never see her brother’s rich chocolate eyes staring into her with a contented smile before and after he took a long drink from her neck. He no longer bothered to let her sleep off the worst of the agony.
Ally had been right about Rhyder’s blood slave idea, and somehow even her wardrobe had complied for his convenience. Wide necked shirts slouched off her left shoulder for ease of Rhyder’s daily greeting. Though Ally had never once found a way to numb the pain, the thought of escape was never far from her mind. Each time Rhyder scooped his mouth to her neck Ally envisioned herself backpacking through Europe, hiking in South America, or snowshoeing through northern Russia – anything far from Rhyder’s grip. Then he would pull back and look into his sister’s eyes.
Her resolve withered every time she locked eyes with the boy she called her brother. Ally wasn’t sure how the sibling camaraderie had developed, but Rhyder was her best friend, strange as it may sound, and he protected her like a sister. Ally found herself with more influence – albeit trivial – in Rhyder’s life than she ever expected. He insisted that she must approve every girl that he was interested in. Ally had yet to approve one though because it seemed he only was ever infatuated with bimbos. All but one.
“I found a girl I really like.” Rhyder burst into Ally’s apartment one morning, grinning from ear to ear. “And I already know you like her.”
His smile was infectious, “Who is she?”
Ally’s smile faded and the blood ran from her face. She had known Shauna since the third grade and the two had remained very close friends. Ally had introduced Shauna to Rhyder and Shauna had privately admitted to Ally that she found Rhyder quite attractive. But Shauna didn’t know what Rhyder was really like; she couldn’t know. Ally had deliberately kept it from her. Shauna was a blameless and naive little girl with impeccable morals who had been extremely sheltered as an only child by her doting parents. She deserved a knight in shining armor, not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Not a vampire.
“No,” Ally blurted.
“No? What do you mean ‘no’? She’s perfect!”
Exactly, thought Ally, and you’re not. How could she tell her brother that Shauna was too good for him? That he didn’t deserve her?
“I know. But she – Well, you –“ Ally faltered.
“Oh, I’m not good enough for her? Is that it?” Rhyder’s eyes narrowed.
“Look, if I were a guy, she’d be too good for me too.” Ally didn’t’ know what else to say.
“Well, Shauna is not too good for me, so I must be better than you.” The conversation was rapidly deteriorating into a schoolyard fight.
“You are not!” Ally shot back angrily. She knew she was acting childish, but she couldn’t hold back her rage.
Rhyder stormed out of the apartment and slammed the door behind him acting just as childish as Ally.
“Yeah, that’s real mature!” she had shouted after him.
Looking back on the memories like that, Ally knew she wouldn’t miss any of her brother’s pigheaded qualities. She had finally filled the glass before her and stopped the slice on her arm from oozing her thick blood. The pain lessened and her head cleared; Ally mulled over more memories of Rhyder – most of the time he irritated her. It was truly a wonder that she hadn’t found a way out sooner, but then she thought of his dark chocolate eyes and remembered he had been careful to block all exits before turning on her. Rhyder had picked every one of her victims – all of her closest friends. Asking any of them for help would mean confessing her betrayal to them. No one would help such a monster. Yes, Rhyderhad been very careful and Ally had only stumbled upon her current escape plan by accident.
She grimaced at the memory that set her on the path that would accidentally lead her to a way out. Rhyder rarely called before coming over, but that visit was a rare occasion.
“Can Gray and I come over?” he sounded extra polite.
She hadn’t seen Gray for a while and told Rhyder she’d love to have them over. Matthew Gray was Rhyder’s handsome roommate. The first time Ally saw the man her jaw nearly dropped to the floor. Rhyder had recently decided that Gray would be his next apprentice. At first Ally was a bit jealous that Rhyder spent more of his free time with Gray, but she got used to it. When the two walked into Ally’s apartment Gray went straight upstairs to start a movie while Rhydermet Ally in the kitchen.
“Got any milk?” He asked innocently enough.
Ally walked to the fridge to check, “Yeah, why?” her back stayed turned.
“Just checking,” Rhyder hopped up the stairs.
In less than thirty seconds Gray was in his place. “May I have some milk, please?” His question was uncharacteristically polite.
Ally realized her folly the moment she laid her hand on the refrigerator door: Gray’s teeth were in her neck. It was a simple plan really, and she’d been stupid enough to fall for it blindly. The pain was intense and Ally instantly felt weak as her head began to throb. She awoke the next morning – at least he had the decency to let her sleep off the pain. Rhyder’s daily betrayal had become a bearable routine, but adding Gray to the mix was beyond Ally’s limits. She rose with new determination to find freedom from these dangerous friends. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the first idea how. She pondered the concept unsuccessfully before heading to her favorite coffee shop to calm herself down and hopefully think a little more clearly.
She sighed in relief noticing her favorite chair vacant when she entered. After placing her order she nearly skipped to the high backed burnt orange overstuffed chair. It was one of a pair placed by the front alcove that looked much like a small display window. A tiny table was squeezed between the two chairs. It was a risk to favor one of a pair considering the eclectic customers that frequented this shop, but Ally was unconcerned. Until Jonah Blake seated himself across from her. She hadn’t even been able to pull the thick book out of her purse; she couldn’t hide behind Dostoevsky’s words anymore. Her muscles tensed; Jonah was staring right at her. Rhyder had strictly forbidden her to associate with him. He’d told her horror stories about how Jonah thought of all girls like a piece of meat to be hunted and devoured and was only concerned about his own immediate gratification. In short, he was dangerous company for any upstanding young woman.
“Don’t I even get a ‘hello’?” Jonah asked after several seconds of silence between the two.
“Hello.” Ally answered uncomfortably, “I’m not supposed to talk to you.” She added with a childlike innocence brought on by her intense discomfort in the situation.
“Oh, come on, Ally, we used to be friends.”
It was true. Jonah had been nothing but a gentleman to her for years. Then she had begun to spend time with Rhyder and then Rhyder had fed on her… Ally’s thoughts were slowly approaching a conclusion when Jonah interrupted.
“Rhyder fed you crap about me, didn’t he?” Ally’s eyes were instantly drawn to his own, “He sure brought you in fast.” Ally could hear pain in his voice.
She suddenly realized why Rhyder considered Jonah such a danger to her. “You used to be like me – like us.” She spoke slowly at first. “He doesn’t want me near you because you could help me out. You could save me and he wants me to live in this death with him.” Her words were coming faster now, “Joey, I want out. You’ve got to help me. He’s killing me. I’m scared. I need out.”
“Do you trust me?” He asked calmly.
“Do you trust me?”
“Have I ever given you reason to doubt me?”
“Then do you trust me? You need to trust me.” Jonah’s voice was calm, but firm.
“Okay, yes. I trust you.”
“Good. Now we don’t have much time – he just walked in and is making his way over here. Don’t look. Here’s what’s going to happen: He’ll run me off as soon as he can – I’ll go without a fight. Next he’ll chastise you for talking to me. Your defense is that you wanted to give him my blood as a gift. He’ll either tell you you’re not ready or give you a deadline. We’re hoping for the first, if that’s the case we’ll meet back here tomorrow morning. Otherwise you’re free to call me and we can work something out. For now just look charming. You’re on in five… four… three… two –“
“Jonah, what are you doing with my sister? Ally, I’m taking you home right now.” Rhyder spoke the last sentence through clenched teeth, his fists held tightly by his sides. Rhyder always acted like a big five-year-old when he was angry. This was no exception. He looked like he was about to throw a huge tantrum if he didn’t get his way. This behavior usually irritated Ally, but right now she felt terrified by Rhyder’s volatile mood.
Jonah spoke calmly and smoothly, “No, please, I was just leaving. My dear, it has been a pleasure.” As he stood up to leave he casually slipped a business card onto the tiny coffee table which Rhyder snatched up before Ally could react. He also hastily seated himself in the recently vacated seat while Ally was still frozen.
“You are not allowed to speak to him. He’s dangerous. You know better. This behavior is inexcus –“
“I wanted to give you his blood as a gift.” Ally interrupted. Her voice sounded dull and quiet to her own ears, but she couldn’t be sure that Rhyder had picked up on the difference.
“You are not ready for that.” Ally’s ears twitched in excitement; he didn’t accuse her of anything near the truth, and that was the response Jonah told her to hope for. “On second thought,” Rhyder’s continued thought twisted Ally’s hope into despair. He knew. He was going to kill her – or worse. “I would make a great birthday present.”
Definitely “or worse.” Ally swallowed hard, “Birthday? That’s only a week away. I was thinking Christmas.”
“If you can’t crack him in one week, you’ll get no closer in three. Just make sure he doesn’t catch on. He can’t think I know you’re seeing him. Whether you get his blood or not, after the 9th I don’t want you anywhere near him. Let’s go. I’ll take you home and you can call him with some excuse to see him again.”
Ally’s mouth was dry after Rhyder’s strange speech, so she merely nodded her compliance. Twenty minutes later Ally sat next to Rhyder on her kitchen island with her phone and Jonah’s card in her hands.
“What am I supposed to say?”
Rhyder just scowled at her.
Ally sighed and dialed the number.
“Hello?” Jonah answered after the second ring.
“Hey, Jonah, it’s Ally.”
“Yeah, sorry our talk got cut short. I’d really like to see you again sometime soon.”
“He’s standing there, isn’t he? Can you tell me how long?”
“Actually, this whole week is wide open for me.”
“Tomorrow morning sounds great.”
“5am at Bella?”
“Alright, see you then. ‘Bye.” Ally set the phone down.
Rhyder left her apartment pleased with himself and not knowing that Ally began her detoxification at 5am the next morning. Jonah explained the process to her at their early morning coffee date. He stressed that the process would be dangerous and excruciatingly painful, but Ally was determined to make the change.
Ally drifted in and out of consciousness. Her vision remained blurry. Jonah’s form was by her bed; cleaning her bathroom, bringing her food. Or was he? Ally couldn’t easily distinguish dreams from reality. Her mind kept replaying the past few weeks over and over. She also saw Rhyder turning her into a vampire. When her mind played visions of Rhyder or blood Ally’s stomach would react violently.
Aware several days had passed in her bed, Ally slowly pulled herself out of bed. Her hand held up her heavy head. It took her far too long to reach the bathroom, but when she finally did she managed to wash her face with warm water. Her hair was a mess; she carelessly pulled it back from her face. Water running downstairs caught her attention. Curious, she tiptoed down the stairs.
“Jonah?” Ally was embarrassed to find him washing her dishes.
“Good morning, sunshine,” he flashed a smile at her.
“How long have I been out?” Ally asked groggily.
“Only six days – I’m impressed.”
“Six days?” Ally’s voice jumped an octave in panic, “Where’s Rhyder? Does he know?”
“Relax,” Jonah took her face in his strong hands, “He went on a two week camping trip with Gray after his birthday, remember? You have him a vial of my blood and he didn’t suspect a thing. Then as soon as the party was over you blacked out and began trying to remove your inner organs through your esophagus.”
Jonah’s description triggered the vague memory of Rhyder’s birthday party – she had baked lasagna and brownies for a small gathering of friends at her apartment. With Jonah’s help she had been blood free for a week, and according to him was progressing quickly to the next stage of detoxification. As a precaution Jonah had hid upstairs in Ally’s bedroom during the party knowing her crash could come at any minute.
She didn’t remember actually blacking out, but she was thankful that Jonah had the foresight to be there. Her last memory was of Rhyder ushering the guests out after the party, eager to receive his present from her in private. She yawned her goodbyes and opened the fridge as Rhyder closed the door after the last guest. He was instantly at her side and greedily reached for the tiny crystal vial full of a vibrant red liquid.
The life is in the blood, she morbidly thought, and then nothing. Ally knew she couldn’t have blacked out then because Rhyder would have noticed and likely figured out what was going on. Jonah filled in the details and told her that he had listened from upstairs as Rhyder excitedly expressed his disbelief and pride in her ability before ungraciously exiting without offering any thanks. According to Jonah, just seconds after the door closed behind Rhyder, Ally collapsed on the floor.
Jonah had then rushed down the stairs and carried her back up to bed. He knew the next several days would be excruciating, but he was pleased with the timing – Rhyder would be gone during the most obvious phase of the change. With any luck, Jonah thought she could continue to progress and not only have recovered from her sickness but returned blood to all of her victims before Rhyder returned at the end of the next week. She would be free before Christmas Eve; Ally couldn't imagine a better present.
The cup was full. The life is in the blood. The cup was full of life. Ally breathed a heavy sigh as she bandaged up her arm. She picked up the chalice and walked to the kitchen. It felt incredibly freeing to pour the liquid into her ready bowl of cake batter. It also felt a little ridiculous, but Ally turned on the KitchenAid and tried not to think about what she was doing. Half an hour later she had two dozen perfectly made cupcakes. She only had twenty-three victims, but Rhyderwould have one waiting for him when he got home from his camping trip. Jonah had explained to her that she needed to offer her blood to Rhyder. Previously he had only taken it from her; in this cupcake was Ally's blood freely offered to him. In a way each victim was receiving back a symbol of the blood Ally took from them, including Rhyder's original donations.
Ally awkwardly stepped out of her apartment carrying a large basket full of individually boxed cupcakes. She was hoping to deliver all of them, if possible, in one day. Danielle was first on the list. Ally had taken the most from her, and felt it only right to deliver the first symbolic cupcake to her childhood friend. She drove slowly to her friend's house; a knot tightened in her stomach with each turn. Would Dani even eat the cupcake? What if she wasn't home? So much for being easy. Ally pulled onto Danielle's street and noticed her bright blue Corolla sitting in the driveway. She parked at the curb and picked a box out of her basket.
Danielle came to the door almost immediately after Ally rang the bell. "Ally! What a surprise!" she gushed, "Come in!"
Danielle always was easily excited. "I really can't stay, Dani," Ally said deliberately, "I just wanted to bring you a Christmas cupcake."
"Aw, that's so sweet of you," Danielle took the box and opened it, "Oh, red velvet, my favorite. Thanks, Ally."
"Uh, yeah, enjoy it," Ally faltered for a bit. That was all she really had to do in the detoxification process, but she felt compelled to say something else. "Hey, um, Dani, I want to apologize for not being such a great friend recently. I'm really sorry. I love you."
Ally began to awkwardly step away from the door, uncertain how to delicately escape the uncomfortable situation she'd created, but before she even took her second step, Danielle wrapped her arms around Ally. "I love you too, Ally." Danielle's embrace was completely comfortable. Ally relaxed in her grip, realizing redemption was possible. She returned the embrace and received her friend's forgiveness warmly. The feeling of forgiveness lingered as Danielle released her hold on Ally. Ally smiled as the sensation settled into her stomach, releasing the tension built up on the car ride over. She lightheartedly returned to her car with a wave to her old friend.
The rest of her deliveries were matched with similar sensations of unease as she approached friends turned prey before they offered her forgiveness. Ally was caught off guard by the gracious way in which her old friends received her. All of them warmly received the cupcakes, oblivious to the ulterior motive in Ally's gift. Similarly they all graciously received her often awkward and vague apologies. Ally's heart lightened after each delivery.
She delivered all twenty-three cupcakes over the next three days, and stood silently in front on the final cupcake left on her kitchen island. It sat on a small note with the words "welcome home" written on it. Ally knew that Rhyderwould eat the cupcake without a second thought before opening the refrigerator in search of milk only to discover a note explaining her disappearance. Jonah assured Ally that Rhyder would never be able to find her where he was taking her. "He hates Canada, remember? He'll never hunt for you there," Jonah smiled. Ally returned the smiled and placed her hand in Jonah's; he picked up her duffel with his other hand and they left Ally's old apartment for the last time.