Max once said, “Dove, you’re a monster now. You won’t be happy until you accept that and move on.”
Happiness, however, was never something I’d aimed for. Not even when I was alive.
Perhaps because I’d been in high school when I died I had never thought to wonder about it. I played football, screwed the prettiest girl on the drill team, scoffed at my parents, and occasionally studied for a chemistry or history exam.
But I never wanted anything – I had it all. And I never loved anyone. Without desire, and without love, maybe happiness doesn’t hold any meaning.
After I became this monster, I wanted blood. I needed it. But it was nothing to do with happiness. It was all to do with survival. Every atom of me reached out for a thick, red, blissful cocktail. What I needed, I found. I never fooled myself into imagining I loved it.
Until the girl I’d been watching killed a helpless, broken bird, and for the first time I loved and was unhappy.
To my sight, she was transformed. No longer a charming girl with unadulterated blood, no longer a vessel carrying the method of my continued existence, she was a glorious monster, a killer of innocents, a violent, beautiful, cruel girl and I did not want to bend her head back and spill her blood. I wanted her to see me. To know me as I knew her.
I watched, but not to hunt, not to inspect and gather intelligence. I watched because I could not look away. The sun alone forced me from her side, and how glad I was that the nights grew longer as the season changed.
Oh, Savannah. With her dark, curling pigtails and shining pink lips – she hid behind a mask of youth and innocence. Her friends laughed with her and she teased and smiled and never told her secrets. She never let them see how she hated to go home to her Poppy, to the modular house in the park beside the Natchez Trace, how her insides clenched as she thought of their parents, their siblings, and how kind they all were. She never hinted that she sometimes dreamed of taking a fish knife from the kitchen and gutting Poppy with it. When they sat in their diner with its canned music and scarlet-plastic booths, she imagined the newspapers screaming of her horrid crime and she smiled more fiercely, gossiped with greater enthusiasm, and made certain to laugh so that they did not see her tears.
But I knew these things. I knew what was in her mind with every turn of her cheek and flutter of her lashes.
When she slept, during the early hours of the morning, I pushed through the thin door of their house and walked silently past a galley kitchen, over worn carpet, though a narrow hallway with faded family portraits. I entered her room and crouched beside the bed. She slept in a tank top and Powder Puff pajama pants. Her legs sprawled and kicked at the sheets. In repose, she was angry and suffering.
I read the pages of her green leather journal, and I saw through the inane phrases to the message beneath. I learned the secret thoughts of her mind, those no one else can read.
I kissed her when her eyes flashed beneath their lids, as she dreamt of violence and murder. Her lips were soft as velvet. Her blood smelled like happiness.
One night I watched her in the diner with friends, and I stepped in through the glass door. The bell announced my entrance and she glanced my way and her eyes skimmed over me, first with easy curiosity and then interest. Her lip quirked into a flirtatious smile and she nudged one of her friends with an elbow. They both stared as I sat at a booth where we could look at each other without drawing attention. The waitress attended me, and I ordered onion rings and a chocolate malt, though I would eat neither.
Savannah continued her charade with her friends, and I stared. When she caught me, she flushed, watching me in turn, and then pretending not to. I thought I could hear her heart beat more quickly, and her pulse thrummed in her throat. I wanted to go to her, to take her up in my arms and kiss her. I wanted to taste her blood in front of every human there in that diner. I would set her on the bar and murder every last one of them for her, to create a spectacle of my love so that she might understand its strength.
I stood. I counted the diners. Seventeen, one for each year I’d been alive. I could destroy them in minutes, and if any had time to contact authorities, Savannah and I would be gone before they arrived.
But I would have no way of hiding what I was. My strength, my speed, my violence – I would be found out, and even if I was in another city by dawn, I would be hunted by their kind and my own.
The table cracked beneath my pressing fingers and I fled so fast not one of the diners noticed.
I ran and I ran through night after night until I arrived in the Twin Cities where it was sleeting. I found Max’s den, on the top floor of a sprawling neighborhood of condos and ritzy townhouses. With my key I entered and waited in his spare room, listening to the noise of him drinking his latest girlfriend.
I had always been a killer, but Max was a lover. He would know what to do.
He found me huddled beside the window, dreaming of Savannah’s black eyes.
“Dove, what in God’s name are you doing here?” He tied his robe around himself as he entered the room. It was silk, as was everything in the apartment that wasn’t steel or polished stone.
“I am in love.”
Max laughed, and I saw blood in the corners of his lips and in the creases between his too-white teeth. “Where is she? I should like to meet this wonder woman.”
“In Jackson, Mississippi, Max. I almost massacred a diner full of humans three nights ago. For her.”
“Ah, Dove.” He folded himself onto the floor beside me and put his arm over my shoulders. “There are three ways this will end. You will expose yourself and die. You will eat her. You will make her one of us.”
“Can I not leave her be to live out her life?”
He peered at me through the darkness. His eyes glinted. “If you can stay out the week here, drink from others, perhaps you have a chance at that.”
I agreed. And I tried. But I could not put my lips against another person, no matter how old or different from my Savannah they were. All blood reminded me of hers. I thought of her alone in the fake house with Poppy. What was he doing to her without me to watch? I locked myself in Max’s spare room and listened as he fed from the same girl night after night and how she enjoyed it.
On the forth morning I cracked the knuckle on my right pointer finger and asked, “How do you win them to your side?”
Max pinched his lips together to pretend he wasn’t smiling at me, knowing why I asked. “I give them gifts and flaunt my beauty.”
“What sort of gifts?”
“It is different for each one. But if she is a girl I particularly want, I give her something particular to her desires.” He kissed my forehead. “Be careful, old boy. You amuse me and I’d rather not read about you in the newspaper.”
I found her in her diner, dressed in jeans and a purple jacket that made her skin glow like bronze. She would be there for another hour, and then jog in the Trace – she was such a creature of habit. I had plenty of time.
At the modular house, Poppy hunched in his plaid rocking chair in front of the TV. A crossword puzzle hung over his knee. I saw yellowing bruises on his knuckles.
I ripped off his fingers first, with my free hand tight over his mouth, and sprinkled them in his lap. I broke his ribs and tore out his tongue. I punched his stomach. He began to smell of filth and tainted blood. I was careful not to get any on my lips. His eyes pleaded with me and raged at me. I hit him in the face and his cheekbones caved in.
When he was well destroyed, I walked into Savannah’s room and took up her green diary. With her purple pen I wrote: For you, Savannah. Your Dove.
I put it on the arm of Poppy’s rocking chair.
Then I hid outside to wait.
She came home as the moon rose, her skin shining with sweat from her run, and hopped up the stairs and through the front door. The light flashed on and there was only silence.
Three minutes passed, and I counted every second. Then Savannah returned to the front door and stood with the screen pushed open. The diary hung from one hand as she stared out, searching the darkness for me. She drew the diary up to her chest and hugged it to her heart.
Author’s note: part one, DUSK, can be found here.