I knew they were coming well before everyone else, so I didn’t jump at the sound of the heavy locks tumbling open just before they entered the room.
I was numb to nearly every sound by then.
My eyes were closed and my body was curled into a ball in the farthest corner of the room. It was an illusion I allowed myself to believe did some good, but in reality the distance from everyone else wasn’t enough.
Nothing short of wide open spaces with no other humans for miles would do me any good now.
But even with my eyes closed I was able to see. Just like if I had been born deaf, I would still be able to hear, thanks to the curse of my curse.
My head had been pounding. For hours. Days. Weeks. It was impossible to tell anymore how long I’d been held prisoner, but ‘seeing’ one of our captors moving through the room through the eyes of the others held prisoner with me, I didn’t have to wonder how much longer it would be until it was my turn to be the chosen one.
Not when I ‘saw’ him come to stand directly in front of me.
It was a single word uttered from his lips. It could be a single letter of the alphabet if his insane species had such a thing. But in this instance – for me – it was a synonym for death.
Another curse or a blessing?
I couldn’t decide.
But knowing there would be no point in fighting them, I made peace with the fact I would die in this godforsaken place and filled my mind with the images I hoped I would bring with me to heaven.
Gran tending to her flowerbeds, while the scent of the apple pie she’d just pulled out of the oven wafted around the house.
Jason sitting in a booth with Hoyt and Rene, laughing about whatever it was those three found funny.
Tina all snuggled up at my side in bed and purring up a storm, while I scratched behind her ears.
But try as I might to retreat inside of my head and latch onto any one of those memories, I still couldn’t drown out the other sounds that were slowly – but surely – driving me insane. People from all walks of life – both men and women – from all corners of the globe surrounded me day and night. Never in my life had I been subjected to the thoughts of so many people for so long of a time. None of them knew me or even knew of my reputation back home as being one of the crazy people, but it hadn’t taken very long for them to sense something wasn’t quite right with me.
Perhaps my near constant position of being curled into a ball and rocking in the corner furthest away from them all gave it away.
But I couldn’t help it. Not when the stress of the situation made it impossible for me to keep my flimsy shields up. And being locked away with them all made it so I never got any peace at all because even in their sleep their dreams would invade my head. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand all of the different languages inundating my head. After a while it all sounded the same.
Like the never ending whistle of the crazy train pulling into the station.
At first I’d tried to reason none of it was really happening to me. That it was all just some horrible dream, so when I didn’t wake up, my denial only grew stronger and my musings more creative.
Maybe I’d been drugged and my new ‘reality’ was hallucinogenically enhanced.
Maybe I’d been in a car accident and now I was lying in some hospital bed in a coma, with my brain taking in the thoughts of all of the surrounding patients, nurses, doctors, and loved ones and turning it into one hellacious bad dream.
Maybe this was what happened when someone was cursed with telepathy. The mind could only take so much outside stimulus before a true psychotic break occurred.
And God help me, I would take any one of those over the nightmare I’d found myself in.
After I’d been kidnapped who knows how long ago, I’d been brought here to this dank and dark dungeon by crazy people claiming they were fairies. And even crazier, they claimed I was one too.
Only an eighth, but according to them it was enough to make me an abomination.
So my Stackhouse temper had gotten the better of me when I told them they could kiss seven-eighths of my human ass.
They only laughed at my sass and tossed me into the pit of people whose boat I was now stuck in too, leaving me to try and sort through the ever pressing muck of their minds. But when the battering ram of sounds trying to get into my head reached its peak and leveled off, I tried to push past it. To overcome and adapt – no matter how much pain I was in – and in doing so, I experimented by reaching out telepathically beyond our prison room to the others I could sense nearby.
The ‘fairies’ I could sense by what I could only describe as pockets of light and there were hundreds of them. Tiny little bright beacons swam through my head that I could only see with my mind’s eye, but not hear. But unlike the sun, their light gave me no feelings of warmth and instead were similar to the little balls of light that would swim across my eyes, warning me I was about to have a migraine.
It was ‘seeing’ those balls of light that gave me hope I really was in a coma with a massive head trauma and it was the morphine drip that did little to keep me from feeling the physical pain.
But balls of light weren’t the only things I could ‘see’. There were also angry red snarls moving about. Pacing, I would guess. Not quite like Sam’s thoughts, but close. And like Sam, I could only get the occasional word or image from their heads.
And some of those images only managed to make me even more afraid.
Men who could shift into wolves? Lions, tigers, and bears?
‘Oh my’ didn’t even come close to covering it.
There were also the mysterious voids. Like invisible balls of mass suspended in midair. Some were tiny, like little BB pellets, while others felt like they were the size of a bowling ball and larger. No images or sounds came from those and on a good day I could focus on the largest of them. I could try to hide my battered brain inside of their big ball of nothing and pretend none of this was really happening to me.
It was the only piece of peace I could manage to find.
I had no idea of how long I’d been stuck in my nightmare. It both felt like minutes and months at the same time. If I were to believe the unbelievable, I was literally snatched right out of my car as I drove home after working the late shift. One minute I was turning onto Hummingbird Lane, looking forward to seeing my bed, and the next I was in this weird world that my human brain refused to acknowledge was real.
But the more time I spent there, the stranger I began to feel. I attributed it to a lack of sleep. To the constant chatter echoing through my head. To those hallucinogenic drugs or maybe that morphine drip in my true reality. No matter the cause, the fact was my body felt different. Weirdly charged, like an electrical wire slowly coming to life, but I couldn’t explain it. I could only feel it. Even in what little downtime I could scratch out for myself, it was there.
A constant presence that was constantly getting stronger.
But after being held prisoner for so long, the stronger that sensation got, the less I cared about the what or why of it. Because much like my favorite male lead character – frankly, I didn’t give a damn.
Unlike any prison I’d seen on TV, there wasn’t much of a routine where we were all being kept. No schedule to give us any comfort in knowing what to expect on any given day at any given time.
No yard time. No rules to abide by.
Some days we were all left alone, with no fairy tormenters coming into the room. And on others – like today – they would show up, wearing their smug smirks, and take one or more of us away, never to be seen again.
As horrible of a Christian as it made me, I always felt a little relieved when they did take some of the others away because my mental torment was lessened by that little bit.
And as horrible of a Christian as it made me, I had equally been coming to envy those who were taken.
Even death would have been better than what I was being forced to endure.
The psychological torture was nearly as bad as being physically beaten. At least for me and my telepathic curse it was. And feeling the guard’s boot kick my own feet out away from my body, I knew now it was time to pay my penance for those envious thoughts. So I opened my eyes and defiantly stared into his own, refusing to show him any fear as I stood up and brushed myself off. Unlike some of the others whose human minds I could understand, I had no false hope those being taken from the room were being given their freedom. But then, I had an unknown advantage.
Over my time spent there, my attempts at adapting – in what I could now acknowledge was my futile attempt to survive – included telepathically tagging along with whichever humans were chosen before me. Even if I couldn’t understand the person’s native language, I could still see what they were seeing. I knew what they knew as it happened. I could even feel their adrenaline rush through their veins and their hope – it was always hope they felt – when one of the guards would hand them what seemed to be an odd weapon.
A wooden stake.
Each human was then led to a row of doors. No two were ever sent through the same one together and each of them were given the same sendoff by the guards.
And one-eighth fairy or not, my sendoff was no different when I was manhandled out into the hallway alone – much to the relief of the others I’d left behind – and a wooden stake was shoved into my hands just as my body was thrust through an open door.
I didn’t need to be a telepath to hear their evil laughter when they slammed that same door shut behind me.
It was darker than I’d expected, but thanks to the dim room I’d spent who knows how long in, it didn’t take long for my eyes to adjust. I couldn’t always track the minds of the others once they were shoved through those same doors, but it wasn’t so much the distance that had hindered my efforts. It was my difficulty in sifting through the rest of the thoughts surrounding me to keep up with the ones who had been moving further away. And like each door was different, so too were the humans sent through them, but they all had one thing in common. No matter who they were or where they were from, they all had come to the same conclusion.
They all believed they would be involved in a fight of some sort. Maybe against each other or maybe against someone else, but they also all believed they had a chance of getting out of there alive.
I had no such hope. My curse coupled with my captivity had made me more cynical than ever, so I knew better. And so did the guards because after they sealed the doors behind them, sealing their fate, they would always laugh their one hundred percent fairy asses off.
Just like they were now doing with me.
And I would give anything to do the same. Kill each and every one of them while I laughed my ass off.
It was yet another tick in the ‘Off My Rocker’ column, but so be it.
But at least I knew some of what I could expect now that the day had come and it was my time to go through one of those doors. My curse was also a gift because I already knew it wouldn’t be a straight path and I would have to feel my way forward. From some of the heads I’d been able to track before it had become too much, I knew it would feel like a maze.
And I had no doubt – like a cat with a mouse – with their “Good luck” wishes, those sadistic bastards were toying with us by trying to make us believe if we could maneuver our way to the end we would be getting our freedom.
Another lie we humans told ourselves. I knew because on more than one occasion, even after I’d lost track of the chosen ones telepathically, eventually I would be mentally smacked by their shock.
Right before they disappeared from my radar completely. And I knew there was only one cause for that to happen.
So already resigned to my fate, I sent a quick prayer up to God that my end would come quick and didn’t feel panicky at all as I felt my way through the maze before me. I’d always been a whiz at navigating the corn maze Old Man Harper would plow into his field every Halloween for us kids and I hadn’t been above using my curse to my benefit then, so I wasn’t above using it now, sensing several of those big balls of nothing a short distance ahead of me.
Even not knowing what they were, I had a feeling I would be finding out sooner rather than later and it probably wouldn’t work out well for me in the end. Perhaps I could have just found a corner and stayed there until someone came looking for me – or after me – but wanting to lay eyes on the one thing that had allowed my mind’s eye some peace, I focused on the one void I could always pick out above the rest and pressed on towards it. At every dead end I found myself at, I spun on my heels and doubled back until before long I came to another door.
Where I could sense what I’d come to think of as my ball. The biggest ball of nothing and that was waiting on the other side.
I must have had some survival instincts left because I gripped my crude weapon in one hand and slowly pushed open the door with the other. Only instead of finding a ghost or an alien or anything else my mind had tried to reason was the cause, I found a man.
A horribly wounded man.
Or was he?
He was leaning against a cot with his eyes closed and his head slumped back, so once I could look past the blood covering his body it was easy to see he had what looked like fangs protruding from his mouth.
Hallucinogenic drugs, coma, or my Brothers Grimm reality, if fairies and werewolves were real in this world, I supposed vampires could be too. And since I’d been given a stake, I assumed they could be killed by shoving one through their heart.
But feeling murderous towards my captors didn’t mean my rage extended to anyone else. And considering his room amounted to what looked like a jail cell, I assumed he wasn’t there of his own free will any more than I was.
And the blood covering his body told me I wasn’t the only one having a bad time.
My eyes trained on his chest to look for signs of life where I saw none and yet my mind could still sense his ‘nothing’.
Strangely, the presence of his void made me believe he was still alive. Or as alive as a vampire could be.
And since he didn’t appear to be waking up just yet, I let my eyes quickly take in the rest of the room. Just like a jail cell, on one side were thick silver colored bars from floor to ceiling, with a single door in the center. On the other three sides the walls were made up of solid brick, but not like any bricks I’d ever seen before. These were practically jewel-like. An iridescent stone that seemed to shimmer without need of any light.
But there was light.
My neck craned just as my eyes went skyward and for the first time in I didn’t know how long I could see the sun. High up above us was a skylight and as my feet automatically carried me to the center of the room and into its rays, the sound of the door I’d come through slammed shut behind me, drawing my eyes back to it.
Just in time to see the outline of the door fade away into nothing but the iridescent brick. Had I not just walked through it, I never would have suspected it even existed.
But the sound also managed to wake my new roommate because I saw him twitch in my peripheral and turned to see his eyes now trying – and failing – to make contact with mine.
“Look at me,” he whispered out in a hoarse voice, while trying to force his eyes open.
He looked so vulnerable in that moment I couldn’t find it in myself to be afraid of him. And since I was coming to suspect it had been him who had unknowingly given me the little bit of respite I could find in that horrible place, I found myself feeling grateful towards him. So I tentatively moved closer as I said, “You’re injured. Is there anything I can do to help you?”
Normally I shied away from touching anyone if I could help it, but my worry for his wellbeing, coupled with my curiosity over his ‘nothing’, had me reaching out and putting my hand on his arm.
And then I really heard nothing.
Sure, I could hear others moving around nearby, but the mental chatter I could hear coming from the room of humans I’d just left, disappeared entirely.
I couldn’t hear them at all. With my head or my ears.
So I experimented by letting go of him and sure enough the mental chatter was back.
“You’re warm,” he murmured almost soundlessly, while his eyes still fought their way open.
“And you’re cold,” I returned.
His nothingness took away any hesitation I might have felt feeling his cold skin, be it from him being a maybe vampire or from his blood loss. But combined with all of the other ‘facts’ as I knew them (fangs, stake, void, etc.), I asked, “Do you need to feed?”
Everything I knew about vampires came from folklore and Anne Rice. But considering he was sitting in direct sunlight with nary a sparkle to be seen, I figured Stephenie Meyer’s version couldn’t be trusted and maybe Anne’s was a bit off as well since he wasn’t burning to a crisp. And not knowing what was fact and what was fiction – or if any of this was even really happening – I didn’t know if I would become a vampire too if he bit me. Or would he have to drain me of my blood and feed me his own?
Would I even want to be a vampire?
Despite ‘the facts’ it seemed like a ridiculous question and one I never thought I would pose to myself, but since his consciousness was still fading in and out, I decided I would have to figure things out for myself.
Fact: Every vampire I’d ever read about consumed blood. Even sparkly ones, albeit animal blood.
And since I couldn’t be sure of the fiction – a mere bite by a vampire could induce vampirism – I elected to take that part out of the equation. His eyes fluttered open just as I moved to his left and sat on the floor beside him, raising the stake in my right hand and intending to use the sharpened tip to cut open the wrist on my left arm, when he tried to make a grab for it, while whisper snarling.
His displeasure, I assumed.
Maybe I should have been more afraid. After all, I’d recalled perfectly the shock, fright, and horror felt by the others sent through the doors before me, so it stood to reason had he not been so out of it, I wouldn’t be breathing right now. However, seeing him so weak and vulnerable made it impossible for me to not try to help him.
And because I was probably a bit delirious myself, it was no wonder a part of my mind searched to no avail. But try as I might, I couldn’t ever remember seeing an antelope trying to nurse an injured lion back to health on National Geographic.
But then I never claimed to be a rocket scientist. Just off my rocker.
It didn’t matter though. I couldn’t get out of his cell any more than I could’ve gotten out of the one I’d just left. As far as I was concerned my fate was already sealed, but considering they’d sent me to him – like a human pizza delivery service – I had hope his destiny wasn’t written yet. Maybe he still had a chance of surviving. Of getting out of there and returning to his medieval castle in Transylvania – his house in the French Quarter or his mansion in Forks – or wherever it was he came from.
And maybe – just maybe – something like a vampire could best a fairy and he would have the opportunity to mete out the justice they so sorely deserved.
So I grabbed onto his hand and gently returned it to his side as I soothed, “Sshhh…everything’s going to be alright.”
I found myself caught up in his gaze as I stared back into eyes that were as blue as the Caribbean water I’d seen in magazines, while he fought to hold our visual connection as he said, “You are not afraid.”
More than his words, something else tickled inside of my head, but I pushed the physical sensation away more so than the sentimental one and smiled, replying, “Not anymore.”
Something about him made me feel safe. It was crazy – just like me now – but seeing him struggle to keep himself awake, I cast that aside. Figuring I needed to get a move on if I wanted him to be able to drink, I quickly slashed at my wrist with the stake and held the open wound over his mouth. The pain at my self-inflicted wound was frighteningly reassuring.
Reassuring me that I was more than likely awake and that I really was willingly feeding a vampire my blood.
I didn’t know the man – vampire – from Adam. But I reckoned my hospitable offer on what was surely my dying day made it okay for me run my fingers through his blond hair. One part of my mind quixotically wished I had a wet washcloth I could use to clean the strands free from the caked blood, while another part wondered what all he’d gone through to cause all of his wounds.
As soon as my blood hit his tongue he made a noise not unlike Jason would make sitting down to one of Gran’s Sunday suppers and I supposed I was completely off my rocker by then because I smiled hearing him.
A woman should enjoy a compliment, no matter the cause.
And since he’d seemed so worried about the stake, I took the time to press it into his own hand for safe keeping before pressing myself against his side to try and share my body warmth with him, just like I shared my blood. I had no idea if he would need it all – if he would take it all – but the seclusion, the blood loss, and my acceptance of my fate all made me feel serene.
Because if my time on earth was coming to an end, I couldn’t think of a more peaceful way to go, even if I couldn’t be sure if this world was still on earth at all.
But it wasn’t just the seclusion, the blood loss, and the acceptance of my fate that I was feeling. Now that his ‘nothing’ was blocking out every other sound that had kept me awake for days on end, my exhaustion hit me like a ton of bricks – not iridescent ones – so it didn’t take very long for my eyes to close and sleep to take me.