WAKING up the next morning, I notice the prospectus on my bedside table. I groan, realising that it wasn’t all just a bad dream. Lying on top is a book – The History of Zaratan by Thomas Draco. I flip to the back and see the author’s mug shot staring back at me. Yep, that’s Dad. God he looks so young. It seems a silly thought to have about a Vampire who naturally ages slower than other species anyway, but it was the eyes that looked young. They had the look of a man excited by life, a man untouched by the consequences of his choices in mate and child. Before he had me, I surmise sadly.
My melancholy follows me down to breakfast. There my mood turns to near vomit status as I walk in on my parents canoodling. There is no other word for the horrific sight that will forever be burned into my brain. My mother with her arms around my father’s neck, his arms around her waist, looking deep into each other’s eyes, giggling, and pecking each other with kisses between whispered words like... I put my hands over my ears “La, la, la, la, la, la!”
My father buries his head in Mum’s neck and groans. My Mum laughs and swats him round the shoulder. “Morning sweetheart,” she smiles. “Sleep well?”
“I did. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to close my eyes again.” I make gagging noises, just to emphasize my point.
“Ah well, you won’t be wanting a morning cuppa then,” she teases, “guess your father will just have to enjoy the new machine by himself.”
New machine? I look over at Dad who is fiddling with something and pressing buttons, causing beeping sounds. As I approach I see what he’s playing with. O-M-G “Is that...?”
“Yes,” he beams. “Your Mother ordered it weeks ago apparently and it was delivered this morning. I’m just trying to figure out how it all works.” I look at Mum who is grinning from ear to ear watching us both bubble with excitement over our new toy. “I think I’ve got it.” He shuts a lid and presses another button. The machine starts making whirring noises. I unwrap two of the special cups that came with the machine and put them in the allocated place. We wait. A minute later, another light and another beep herald the delivery of PlasmaX ™
Dad and I exchange wide grins and reach for our cups simultaneously. I wrap my fingers around the cup, bring it to my nose, and inhale deeply. The smell instantly has my mouth watering and my fangs throbbing. I let the liquid touch my lips, expecting it to be hot, like a cup of coffee or tea would be, but it’s at perfect body temperature. I savour the taste in my mouth before swallowing, comparing it to my feed from last night. The taste is different, but I find I prefer the taste of the PlasmaX ™
“Perfect,” Dad mumbles “Just like the real thing. I don’t think I could tell the difference if you put a Human in front of me right now.” He notices my confused look. “You don’t agree?”
“It tastes different” I shrug. “Nicer actually, but different.”
“You mean in comparison to last night?” I nod.
“That’s because you tasted Vamp last night, not Human.” Oh. Well that makes sense I guess. I take another sip, this time accepting the taste, rather than comparing it. Mmm. I see Dad watching me and his brain is ticking over, he has that look.
“You’ve really never tasted a Human? Not even Dee?”
“No!” I cry in disgust. “Dee’s my friend, I would never do that to her. Besides, you always told me I was never to drink from Humans.”
“I know. But you’re a teenager, and teenager’s don’t always do as their parents tell them,” he laughs. “I just thought you might have been curious and tried it without telling us.”
I thought about what he was saying. Should I have tried it? I shook my head. No. It wouldn’t have felt right to drink from my friend. The thought of biting Dee had me feeling sick to my stomach. I looked down at my drink, suddenly seeing an image of Dee in the reflection of the surface, her throat bleeding out. My stomach churned. I put my mug down, ran to the kitchen sink, and hurled. Mum held my hair and rubbed my back as I continued to dry wretch. I hadn’t had much to do any real damage, but apparently my stomach hadn’t got the memo. I rinsed the sink, taking a few sips of water in the process. “Sorry,” I mumbled.
“You have nothing to apologise for sweetheart.” She turned to glare at my father “Unlike someone else in this room.” To be fair, he did look a little guilty when he apologised. He soon scurried off with his drink into his study like a child who’d been scolded.
It was then that I noticed the flat-packed cardboard boxes in the corner of the room. “Are you kicking me out already?” I grumble.
“What? No one’s kicking you out Raven. I thought I’d get started on the Kitchen before the removers arrive tomorrow.”
“Removers? Kitchen? Why do I need to take the kitchen with me?”
“Did your brain go down the sink, along with your stomach?” she jokes. “We’re moving to Zaratan before term starts, so we can get settled in the new house before you start at The Foundation. I thought it would be easier than trying to do it all at once.”
“New house? You didn’t say anything about a new house. I thought we would be staying here and I would be able to come back during the holidays and at weekends. What about all my friends, what about Dee?”
“Sweetheart, that’s not really very practical. Zaratan isn’t exactly around the corner. You’re such an easy person to get on with, I’m sure you’ll make new friends on the island in no time.”
“You didn’t read the book your father wrote, did you?”
“Not yet,” I admitted. “I was planning to though. After breakfast. Can you just give me the Cliff Notes?”
She chuckles and sets about readying the breakfast things. “Fine. But promise me you’ll read it. Your father was very proud of that book – it was his first publication.” I nod in agreement and help Mum start breakfast.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day - even Humans know that. In our house, it’s a grandiose affair. Not all Shifters need such a large meal, but the Claw Clan consist mostly of the big cat family. As that’s the Ancient line my Mother and I hail from, we have hearty appetites. Our usual breakfast menu consists of:
3 RASHERS OF STREAKY BACON
3 OR 4 PORK SAUSAGES
2 FRIED EGGS
2 BLACK PUDDINGS
1 OR 2 BOWLS OF CEREAL
ROUNDS OF TOAST WITH JAM
A FEW TEAPOTS OF MUMS SPECIAL BREW
NATURALLY SQUEEZED JUICE
I usually have a few Plasma bars on top of that too and up until today, Dad and I would drink our Synthies ™, but I have a feeling that PlasmaX ™ will be the new beverage of choice in our household (as long as I can keep it down).
Therefore, while Mum and I are pottering about the kitchen - chopping, frying, grilling, and pouring the usual start to the day, she briefs me on Zaratan. “It’s a beautiful, little island” she smiles nostalgically. “My mother used to take us there on day trips and we’d stay long weekends at this quaint little B&B off the harbour square. Every Sevenday there would be a lovely craft market where you could buy just about anything for a good price. I remember there was one stall run by a local coven that made the best shampoo and conditioner. I wonder if they’re still there.” She seemed to wander off down memory lane for a while, before she remembered I was even there. “Sorry,” she smiled. “They’ve added to the island over the years, so I’ve been told. A friend of mine says on the bridge side of the island they’ve built dozens of high-tech office buildings, and a brand new mall with multiplex. I’m sure that’s where you’ll be spending most of your free time,” she adds knowingly.
“Where exactly is Zaratan? Is it in America? The Baron mentioned cheerleading and you’re talking about a mall – that all sounds rather American to me.”
“No,” she chuckles. “Zaratan isn’t in this realm sweetheart. I told you it isn’t exactly around the corner. Can you start squeezing the oranges please?” I start chopping and squeezing. “We’ll be applying to the Guardian to cross the veil. All being well, we’ll be crossing the bridge onto the island by late afternoon. I guess you could say that America has influenced the culture there in the last century or so. Zaratan was always more akin to a quaint English village with working harbour, stone buildings, large estates, agriculture, and woodland. Nevertheless, from what Solia tells me, the American influence of recent years has added apartment blocks and contemporary shopping facilities. Although she assures me, they have tried to keep the new builds to one side of the island, so I’m hoping they haven’t spoiled the quiet ambience of the harbour. I always loved that place. I used to dream of retiring there when I was old and grey. Guess I’m getting to live my dream earlier than expected.” She beams at me and I notice how young and beautiful she still is. I’ve always just seen her as my Mum, but in this moment, I can see the young woman full of hopes and dreams. I finish setting the table and as usual, Dad walks in and takes a seat just as breakfast is served. Uncanny.
Over breakfast the conversation revolves around the new house. “There aren’t many Ancients that permanently reside on the island, although a few have estates they use when there,” my Dad explains. “I thought it best to purchase a property a little more out of the way, so I have chosen a less populated area.”
“Do you mean we’re going to be living in the middle of nowhere?” I can’t hide my horror at being stuck in the boonies.
“Raven, I need you to understand something.” He and Mum share a look that has my heart rate elevating slightly. “There are those that did not approve of your Mother and me forming a union. It has been proven in the past that when the genetic material of our races is mixed, the result can be... undesirable.”
Undesirable? What does that mean? I’m a genetic mix of the races. So does that mean I’m undesirable?
“That is not to say that you are in any way comparable to... others.”
I do not like that pause. Wait, others? What others? “I thought I was the only Vampire/Shifter hybrid?” My statement turns into a question as they share another look. “Stop that!”
“Raven.” My Father sighs. “Centuries ago there was a Vampire who wanted to rule all the races. He was very powerful, but he wasn’t satisfied with that power. He set out to gain more. He captured and tortured many other beings from the different races, trying to find a way to integrate their power with his. His experiments went unchallenged for a long time. At that point, the Shifters were considered by most of the ruling Vampires to be nothing more than animals and so they turned a blind eye to the most heinous of crimes.
“Eventually the Shifters fought back and a war ensued. A war they say raged for a hundred years. When the Vampire was killed and a truce was finally reached, it was decided that the two races should be kept as separated from each other as possible. I think the Shifters didn’t trust the Vampires too much, and I can’t say I blame them.
“It was later rumoured that he had succeeded in his experiments and that the Vampire elders were hiding the progeny from the Shifter race. There was of course no proof and most believed it was a section of renegade Shifters trying to stir up more trouble. Other rumours stated that the races banded together to create an Agency that would stamp out any such problems that may cause a repeat of earlier misdeeds. But again, no proof.
“When your Mother and me first became romantically attached, we kept it secret. We knew that neither of our families would approve and I had yet to perform my duty by mating with the other Ancient lines.”
Eww! “I know I’m going to regret asking this...” I just couldn’t bring myself to finish the sentence. My Dad looked as if he wanted to sprint from the room immediately. Mum saved him from his embarrassment.
“Each male must mate with the females of the neighbouring genetic lines to reproduce the next generation of Ancients.”
Eww! I shouldn’t have asked. “Wait. Isn’t that inbreeding?”
My Father rolls his eyes and I suddenly see where I get that particular habit. “You are thinking in Human terms. Human genealogy weakens when mixed with similar genes. A Vampire's does not. It is how the Ancients pass the power down throughout the ages. Certain traits are desirable in a specific mix so therefore all Ancients are matched with those who have similar traits or those that would enhance from another line. When a Vampires duty has been performed, he or she is then free to pursue relationships at their own luxury, but not before.”
“But you didn’t follow those rules?”
“No.” His voice is tinged with regret “I did not perform my duty to my family and my race.” He looks up at my Mother and any lingering sadness vanishes. “I fell in love with your Mother.” I could see there was so much more to the story, but I didn’t want to put the sadness back in his eyes.
“It was the worst thing you ever could have done,” she smiles.
“Nonsense. I chose perfectly.” This time I roll my eyes and gag. Yeuk! Parent love is sooo gross!
“Even with the curse?” she asks. Dad sighs as if this was an old argument he was tired of having.
“What curse?” I ask curiously.
“When your Father and I decided we wanted to handfast, we knew our families would be outraged, so we planned secretly. On the night of our ceremony, a plague swept through the Ancient Vampire race killing all the females. Not one was left alive, no matter what age or ancestral line. They all died.”
“What?! That’s impossible,” I proclaim. “No way can that happen. Every single female Ancient dead in one night? What kind of plague can do that?”
“Exactly,” says Mum looking to my Dad.
“Adele,” he sighs “we’ve gone over this a million times.”
“And you still can’t come up with another explanation, can you?” she challenges.
“What explanation?” I ask hesitantly.
“When everyone found out about our union, in particular the night of our handfasting, it was proclaimed that we had brought forth a curse. Your Mother believes that we are responsible for all those deaths.”
I look between the two of them. They’re serious. Silence fell for a moment as the enormity of the situation sat there. Could they possibly have brought forth a curse that killed all the female Ancient Vampires? I turned this over in my mind. I’d heard of curses being made by individuals through malice –usually a witch was involved though. They were talking about causing multiple deaths because they fell in love. That doesn’t make sense. Curses come from bad things, how can falling in love be bad? They weren’t hurting anyone. “No.” They both turned to look at me. “Dad’s right. He may not have an explanation and neither do I. But I do know one thing – curses come from evil, love isn’t evil.”
Mum purses her lips in thought and Dad smiles “From the mouths of babes.”
THIS CHAPTER IS SPONSORED BY