(I am very excited to bring you, my readers, my very first vampire short story! This story was written for annual Writer’s Digest competition. I don’t post those types of submissions until the deadline, so that’s why I waited so long. This story has been done for a while now.
A little bit of background on this story: “Saving Susan” is really an extension of a chapter of one of my favorite fan fics that I wrote, called “Lost and Found”. The story itself, however, takes a very different turn. )
He remembered first and foremost that it had been raining the night he found her. Howard would never forget that for as long as he lived. Years later, that would be the most prominent detail he’d remember. The brunette haired young man was wandering the slums of New York City, looking for a place to rest. He didn’t really have enough money to stay in a hotel, so the streets would have to serve for his shelter. Cardboard boxes, broken down cars, even a phone booth would have suited him well, but unfortunately for him, in the slums all of those makeshift homes were taken. He finally came across an alleyway. It, too, was crowded, but he couldn’t find it in him to care anymore. The hour was late, and he had traveled many miles that day.
As he began to pick his way through the mob of meshed together homeless folk, he noticed something. There was a familiar stench. There was another, like him, who walked among these unfortunate people. He caught sight of her, and he growled, when he figured out what she was after. She had tracked a child here. A child! That is low, even for our kind. He he rushed to catch up to the woman, but he didn’t get too close. She could sense him too, without a doubt. Howard finally saw the other’s prey when she had to pause to side step a mother and her two sets of twins. The child didn’t look too old, maybe she was about ten or eleven in age. Her eyes were a bright green, her hair as gold as the sun. Howard found that he suddenly wanted her for himself. He let loose with a low growl now, as he approached the woman’s back.
The woman turned, and glared at Howard. Her eyes were a deep onyx shade. She was beyond starving. “What is your quarrel with me, stranger?” She asked now. Her words came out sounding majestic, and nothing like the patches of speech that surrounded the pair. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Oh, but you most certainly have. That child there is mine.” Howard replied, his voice stern, as if he was back to ordering people about on the slave line from his native state years ago. “I’ve merely been following her at a distance to keep from intimidating her.”
“I’ve been following her all day, and never saw you anywhere near her.” The woman challenged. Clearly, she was not used to being talked to in such a rough matter. Her thin lower lip stuck out in a pout meant to persuade Howard to give in to her.
Howard blinked. He, of course, was used to being given his way, and having his orders followed. He could not fathom why anyone would dare to challenge him. He took a step closer to her. “I said leave.” He spoke through clenched teeth, using all the restraint he had to keep from ripping into her right there. That would definitely draw attention to them, and they couldn’t afford that. “Just go.” His voice was rough, callous, as he shoved her to the side.
The woman, who now stepped away from the child, growled low. She did not like to be beaten at all. “You’ll be sorry for this, Sir.” She spat the last part, and then spit on his shoe, as she left. Her exit did attract some attention for she was walking with the air of someone who thought the slums were no place for her now that she had lost that which she had driven there.
Howard watched her until she turned the corner, and was out of his line of sight, before he turned his attention to the child that was cowering in the far corner, her small form nearly hidden behind the massive dumpsters. He walked over to her easily, and knelt to her level. “Are you alright, little one?” Now that he was close enough to her actually study her, he saw that she was very pale, almost as pale as him. The child was sick.
“I’m alright. Thank you.” She spoke softly, brushing a wayward strand of hair out of her face, as she moved further into the shadows. Something about this man frightened her, though she could not fathom what. He had just rescued her from the weird woman that had been following her like a bloodhound followed it’s hunted. He wasn’t going away though. He was watching her intently. “Really, I’m alright. You can go now.”
“Surely you can’t stay alone by yourself. How old are you, child?” Howard replied, ignoring her unease. He layered his voice was reassurance. He could get her to go with him. It wasn’t that hard. He held out a hand to her.
“I’m going to be eleven in two weeks.” She told him, a hint of annoyance in her voice. “I took care of myself, and my two sisters and a sick mother for almost a year. I think I can take care of myself now.” She coughed a little bit, and her balance on her knees waned. She felt the man catch her shoulders, and she tried to pull away.
“Oh, I think you should see a doctor,Child.” Howard told her. “What’s your name?” He carefully pulled her to her feet, and took her into his arms tenderly. He felt the urge to take her right then and there, and make it so that she wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. He had the feeling that the poor girl had been suffering with her ailment for a long while without knowledge of it.
“Susan.” The girl didn’t fight with Howard when he picked her up. Instead, she found his caring, protective nature warmed her heart. Not one of the citizens in the city outside of these slums had even given her a second look. They considered her one of the homeless population. In truth, Susan had a home. It was just a little smaller than a lot of the others.
“Well, Susan. Let’s get you out of the rain. That would be the first thing to do.” Howard swallowed his thirst, and laid her head on his shoulder. She wasn’t going to fight him anymore. He had dissolved all of her mental barriers. He wondered how a child of her age had learned to put up barriers like that. He felt the child wrap her arms around him trustingly, and he almost felt guilty. Almost, but not quite. He had not found a meal yet that he regretted partaking in yet, and Susan was not going to be where he started. “Where is your home, Susan?”
“A few blocks away.” Susan replied. She felt drowsy, and quite ready to give in to whatever strange things this man wanted to do. He didn’t particularly scare her. He just made her a little bit nervous.
“I think it might be better to find a small place to rent for the night. It could be closer.” Howard replied, though he spoke mostly to himself, as he ran a hand through the sick girl’s hair. There were many emotions going through him that he was not accustomed to. One being protectiveness. It went beyond the protection of one’s prey. No, this was different all together. He felt her flinch in fear as thunder began to roll across their path towards the rental house. “Aw, don’t worry, Susie. It’s just a bit of thunder. We’ll be out of the rain here in a bit.” He hugged her closer to him as he spoke close to her ear. As they finally got past the last fire barrel that served as a heater for a group of vagabonds, he realized that no one had even paid him, or the child any mind. No one there had cared whether or not she was legally supposed to be with them. Just like humanity not to give a damn about anyone but themselves. Even when it’s a child. He was disgusted, but only momentarily. He had to set his mind to the task at hand: keep Susan close.
The room he rented for them a little over an hour later left a lot to be desired. He would have argued a bigger space, and he could have put his authority to the test, but he was more concerned for his young companion. Susan was becoming more weak as time went on, and that fact lent itself to Howard’s belief that the girl had been sick for more than just a day or two. She had been fighting with this ailment for weeks or more. He laid her down on the bed as soon as they were safely in the room. He locked the door, even though he was fairly certain the girl would not want to leave him now. “How long have you been sick this way, Susan?”
“I… don’t know. I lost track of the days after Mama and Betty died.” Susan strained to sit up, but she could not do it. She studied Howard as he came to sit by the bed next to her. “I don’t want to die. Is there a doctor nearby that can help?”
“Not nearby enough to be able to get to you before it’s too late.” He was tormented by thoughts of what he’d planned for her, and what he now felt he wanted to do. He tentatively ran a hand through her hair. “Just rest now. You’re safe here.” He wondered how long she’d been on the run. He had the sense that the woman he’d encountered had probably been tracking her for days. Susan looked like she had not had a good sleep in a few nights. He tucked her in just as a father might tuck in his child. He watched as her heavy eyelids reluctantly shut.
When he was sure she was asleep, he laid a hand on her forehead. He felt her flinch at the chill of his touch, but he didn’t move to stop what he must do. He removed all of her bad memories by sheer will. He was amazed at the amount that this young girl had. She hadn’t had a great early childhood. She was the middle child of the family, and therefore had to be both an older sister, and a younger sister. Her family hadn’t made much money, so having extra things like toys and book had been out of the question. Instead, she and her siblings had made do with paper dolls, and their own imaginations. That was before severe illness struck the family. He wiped one memory after another, trying very hard not to see every single struggle or torture she’d gone through in the last few months. She would not need these in her next life. He paused briefly, when he heard her whimper.
“I’m sorry, Mama. I’m so sorry.” She began to struggle, and Howard pulled his hand away, taking her into his arms.
“Hush now, Susie… it’s alright….. It’s just a dream, little one.” He pet her hair and rubbed her back. He was amazed at how natural this seemed to him. He had no memory of ever having been around children before. He felt her wrap her arms around him trustingly. That is your doing. You’ve made yourself accessible to her for comfort. If you want to be kind to her, it might be easier to just kill her, and satisfy that burning you’ve got going on in your stomach. But he didn’t want that. He found that he was torn between what he really wanted, and what he knew was the best thing for the girl. He stroked her hair some more. She was starting to drift into a feverish sleep again. He laid her down, tucking her back in. He opted to leave her memories alone. If and when he decided to take her, he would finish the job. What he did, however, was plant a memory of him being somehow related to her, an uncle, perhaps, but with no real clarity. Either way, he would make sure that he had relative control over her from here on in. It wouldn’t be the same control he’d kept over the slaves of the past. That kind of control was not required for such a child.
Howard sat back in the bedside chair, resting his head against the headrest. He closed his eyes, and took in a steadying breath. Her scent was tantalizing. He knew she was his to take now, if and when he was ready, but Howard wasn’t even sure what that meant anymore. Take her for food? Or take her as his daughter? He wasn’t positive what that meant. He blinked suddenly, when he heard his mobile phone ringing. The device had not rung in close to two weeks. He picked it up. “Hello?” He spoke softly, so as not to wake the girl that slept fitfully in the bed.
“Howie, when are you coming home? I get you’re not going to kill humans. That’s perfectly fine, but you can’t really survive in that world alone. Come home.” It was Vanessa. Howard refrained from rolling his eyes. Vanessa, along with his old colleague Jensen had met up with him some years ago, and found him not to be their anything like them. An argument only months later found Howard on the streets, and that’s where had been ever since. “Please?”
“I… I’m kind of in the middle of something….” He didn’t want to admit that he had not been strong enough to resist his natural instincts. “I’ll be home in a day or two.” He had made his decision, and he would need some time to get her focused on how he wanted to raise her. But first, he needed to make sure he was properly prepared. “See you then.” He hung up before Vanessa could reply to him. He turned to his charge, frowning. Howard frowned, looking outside. It was still pouring. No animals would be about in the rain. He would simply have to wait out the night to get anything for her. Now, me on the other hand? I can’t wait that long, or I’ll ruin my own plan. Howard slipped out of the room, making sure to lock it from the outside, in case she woke up. He doubted she would. He went to hunt down a meal that he was sure no one would miss.
When she woke up, Susan looked around the room. She was disoriented at first. She was sure that finding the kindly man in the final alleyway of the slums had been a dream induced by delirium. However, when she turned her head, she saw him there. He appeared to be resting in the chair next to her bed. Susan wondered if he had been there all night. She started to speak, but found that her throat wasn’t going to allow it. She had gotten worse overnight.
“You’re awake….” The soothing voice startled her in the silence of the room.
Susan nodded, her eyes wet with tears. Her throat hurt her badly. She gestured with her finger towards the water bowl that sat on a nearby stand. She wanted to make herself look a little fresher for when they’d leave later in the day. She watched as he carefully brought it to her without much of a word. She carefully washed her face, and neck. The chilly water felt good on her still feverish skin.
Howard realized what had happened over night. The illness was in her throat now. She couldn’t speak. This would have been an opportune time to put his plan into action, but he was a little skeptical of that, after the feasting he’d done during the night. He came over, and put a hand on her shoulder. “I can make all of this pain go away.” He looked her directly in eyes now. When she tried to look away from him, he cupped her chin in his hand carefully. He softened his voice. “But I will give you a choice.”
Susan attempted to clear her throat, before she let out a soft gasp. She had just noticed how deep red Howard’s eyes were. “Are you a demon?” She asked now, pulling away from him. She ignored the pain that came when she’d spoken.
Howard blinked. That was not a question he’d been prepared to answer. “No. I’m not a demon….” He took the water from her, and smiled kindly. “I’m a vampire.” He decided to take a more straight forward approach. He grabbed her hand, firmly, but not forcefully. “The woman that was tailing you in the alley yesterday was a vampire too. She was probably looking for an easy meal.”
Susan swallowed hard, trembling. The child was no longer sure if it was from her illness, or the fear that was mounting at his every revelation. She felt foolish, for having trusted him so much. Her mother warned her about strangers, and in her moment of weakness, she’d decided to ignore all warnings. Try as she might, she could not make herself look away from his deep red eyes. Susan was sure he had put her under a spell or a trance of some kind. Yet, she found him oddly comforting when he pulled her into his lap to hold her close.
“You’re very sick, Susan. And there is a good chance you won’t recover. I can put you out of your misery, if you’ll let me.” Howard could smell her fear. It was making her that much more appetizing. He tightened his grip reflexively, ignoring her whimper of pain only momentarily. He needed to re-center himself, until he was ready.
“You… want to kill me?” Susan tried very hard to get away from Howard now. He was scaring her badly, with his casual way of speaking, his kindness. No vampire she’d ever heard of were really that merciful. They had a bad habit of killing those that were close to her, like her friend Jenny. That was the rumor she’d heard anyway.
“Contrary to your beliefs, vampires don’t kill everyone. Many of us, like myself, have been struggling to keep to a mostly animal blood diet. Those that still feed on humans are those that stay in sparce areas.” He was holding on to her, working hard to keep her calm. “To answer your question, Susie, no. I don’t want to kill you. I want to give you a new life.”
“I don’t want it….” Susan began to protest. She didn’t get too far, as a terrible coughing spell. She felt Howard tighten his grip on her, cuddling her close to him in a soothing gesture. She was too weak to move by the time the coughing subsided. She leaned against him weakly. “Mm….”
It pained Howard to see this poor girl suffering as she was. It made him angry too, knowing that not one person in the alley had seemed to care that she was so ill. Humanity really ticked him off. He lowered the girl back down into the bed, and went to sit in the chair again. She was watching his every move now. “Susie, please….”
She shook her head. Susan didn’t want to have to depend on blood to survive. It would mean killing other innocents. “Please….”
Howard stood up now, pacing at the foot of his charge’s bed. He could imagine Vanessa and Jensen’s reactions if he returned with a child. Jensen would be furious, and insist that she be immediately destroyed, and Vanessa would want to keep her as her own. It was a difficult decision, and he wasn’t sure, no matter which he chose, was the right one.
As Susan went into another fit of coughing and wheezing; this one more violent than the previous, he made a decision. He walked over to her, and held her down as gently as he could. He leaned close to her ear. “I promise I’ll make it all okay for you again.” He sat down on the edge of the bed, pulling the girl out from under the covers, and into his lap. He tried to sooth the pain she was feeling by putting one of his cold hands against her burning throat. Just as she began to relax in his grip, he leaned down, and bit into her heated flesh. He felt her tense, and heard her cry out in pain, but he held her still. Howard was careful not to drink too deeply. He knew how much the sucking motion hurt the child. He pulled away as she went limp in his arms. She was gasping for breath, still trying to live. Howard bit into his own flesh then, and forced it to her mouth.
“Mm… no.” Susan tried to turn away from the bleeding wrist offered to her. She heard Howard’s voice, but she couldn’t make out the words that he said. She was just barely conscious. The girl felt drops of the vampire’s blood touch her lips, and without knowing why, she licked it off. Doing that was probably the mistake she made. She grabbed the offered wrist, and began to drink deeply; each gulp tasting better than the last, before it was abruptly taken from her.
“No more, my little one.” Howard said now, as he laid her back down. Her pain, the pain that signaled the end of her human life, but the beginning of her immortal one, would begin momentarily. He knew he would not be able to hold her as he was holding her now. He held her hand gently though, stroking it lovingly. He was proud of himself. He had not gone too far, as he had with another girl Howard had tried to turn the year before. As Susan succumbed to the pain of her human life ending, Howard’s mobile phone rang again. He cursed silently, choosing to ignore it.
An hour later Susan was resting peacefully. She would wake up immortal in a day or two, and then he would begin the business of breeding her to feed as he had always wanted to. He sat silently, and closed his eyes. He was not looking forward to the work ahead, but he was sure he could handle it. The life of his new baby depended on it.
Jensen blinked. Howard was on his doorstep, holding the hand of a pale-skinned child, who eyes were the color of honey. It was clear this was the child he had made. He was speechless. He stepped to the side of the doorway, inviting them in silently. He watched as Howard carefully led the girl in. “What’s her name?”
“Susie.” Howard replied. He helped her out of her coat and hat, and laid them on the old familiar bench. It felt weird for him to be back home again. The only real reason he’d come home was to give Susan a chance at a real home life. He had wanted to show her that life could be about more than just plain survival. He turned the girl to face Jensen then. “This is Jensen. He’s been a friend of mine for a long time. you are to respect him, no matter what.”
“Okay.” Susan, who now went by Susie readily held out a hand to Jensen. “It’s nice to meet you.” Susan replied softly. She looked up at Howard then. “Is this our new home?”
“Yes, Susie. This is our home now. Should you need anything, don’t be afraid to ask.” He followed Jensen into their old office, and he sat down, sighing. “I would have told you, but it never felt like the right time. I didn’t think you’d understand.”
“I don’t. However, there is a strict moral code that I follow. I will not hurt any vampire that is made by my family. Your child is safe.”
Howard nodded. That’s all I wanted.