The dull hush that had washed over the library since it had almost emptied was peaceful, until a small thud sounded waking Ari instantly. The disturbance had been caused from her head falling against the thick notebook on the desk below. Glancing down at her wrist watch, she rolled her eyes; it was just after 11pm.
It was the end of another exhausting day at university. Ariana was tired, not only from studying for her mid semester exam which was tomorrow at 8am, but also from the extra shift she had taken at work to cover her rent for the week. Ari lived in a small studio apartment in Paddington. The rent was expensive because her building was so close to the university she attended and real estate in that area was sky rocketing. Since the age of 18, when she was no longer a ward of the state, money had always been tight. With no family to speak of, a full time study load, and her government allowance barely covering the rent, she’d had to take on a part time job. Still, she didn’t complain. Her social lifestyle was almost non-existent, which meant that she saved a lot by not going out drinking every other night with the rest of the people from her year.
For just shy of two years she had been enrolled in the Bachelor of veterinary science at the University of Brisbane. As the name suggested, the university was close to Brisbane City, which meant that most of the attendees were highly fashionable while she wasn’t; this aided in her ability to cut costs. Gifted with high cheek bones and a well-shaped body, Ari got away with wearing things off the ten dollar rack, or else skimmings from the St Vinnie’s bin.
Though her social calendar was almost always empty, Ari never found herself without anything to preoccupy her time. Studying vet at university was hectic. Tonight Ari tried desperately to remain focused on the 2 nd edition of the veterinary pathology textbook that she was reading. For the past hour or so the words on the page had slowly begun to blur and she found herself re-reading over sections of the book, that were slipping from her head without leaving the faintest trace. Without noticing, her head had been slowly lowering towards the book laid in front of her, so that it was an inch or so away from the tiny print when her eyes finally gave up on the fight to pull the words into focus.
“Another all-nighter,” she whispered to herself as she stacked her books into a pile, before sliding them into her bag.
Fortunately for Ari, the university offered after-hours library access for students; this made her obsession with studying and lack of social events all the more achievable. There were still a few tired faces glued to books that she passed on her way to the third floor landing. Walking down the wide wooden staircase, Ari clung tightly to the railings, afraid her exhausted feet might give out under her. When she finally reached the bottom, she waved kindly at the tall Asian security guard who manned the library information desk on the ground floor. Neither knew the other’s name, but Ari had seen him often enough to afford him this common courtesy without seeming too presumptuous. As she swiped her university ID card at the automatic door, it buzzed loudly and opened to let her out.
Just before replacing her student ID back into her wallet, Ari glanced down at her card. The picture was from a few years ago, when she had first started studying a different bachelor’s degree. Though she had almost finished the second year of an entirely different degree, she had not changed much in that time. She was 24 years old, with long warm chocolate brown hair, which was straight or wavy depending on the weather. Often she wore it half up and half down, with wisps of hair framing her face. Her face was oval, but her high cheek bones, slender pointed nose, and definitive chin gave her a ‘classic beauty’ appearance. Her long eyelashes were complimented by large dark blue eyes, although one would turn green if she was sad or angry, a fact the students at her high school had made fun of from the moment they discovered this.
Walking from the library at night was always a little unnerving. Ari parked her car on a side street close to the University and from there it took her about ten minutes to get to class. Still, tonight the sky was particularly dark. Off in the distance a noise rang through the deserted campus. For a moment Ari listened hard, but she couldn’t quite place what the source of it might be; it was too late for a football match. Glancing around the heavily shadowed path that she now took, Ari tried desperately to make out the footpath. The moon shone valiantly in the sky, but its small rim of light barely managed to break through the thick conifer forest she was making her way past. Despite Ari’s overwhelmingly ominous feeling due to the lack of light, the University really was a beautiful campus. Large lakes adorned by water features were prominent on the eastern side, while well tendered sports fields occupied the west and south. Here, facing north, a large bamboo and conifer forest was prominent. It gave the University a lush green appearance, masking the typical dry warm climate that was typical of Brisbane City. During the day, the dark and light greens of the leaves and the whoosh of wind past the hollow bamboo stalks were calming. However, now the rustling leaves caused from the chilly wind sounded eerie and, without any lights to guide her way, prompted the feeling of foreboding rather than serenity. An odd creeping sense ran up Ari’s back, immediately followed by a cold chill which settled in her heart. She was looking though her school bag for her keys when she finally realised what the noise in the distance was: music.
“Thursday smoko,” she whispered to herself, smiling slightly as she pictured the many uni students who were probably at this very moment exceedingly drunk and dancing like no one was watching.
Every third Thursday, the University put on smokos. These events were targeted for the students who loved to party, such as those just out of high school or simply still young at heart. Though it was the head of school who allowed the events, it was the social committee who ensured a constant supply of alcohol, giving boys more courage and girls less common sense. Ari wasn’t opposed to drinking, but she knew that it was the last thing she needed the night before a big exam.
“Hey beautiful,” a voice called from behind her.
Turning around before she could stop herself, Ari saw a group of four or five guys that were walking close behind her.
“Err hey,” Ari responded, turning back around quickly to face the path and redoubling her efforts to find her keys as she forced her legs to work harder.
“Where you going so quickly?” One of the boys asked in an overtly slurred tone.
Instantly Ari felt uneasy. She was no stranger to unwanted attention such as this. For a moment she prepared a witty retort in her head, until a soft whisper and the pitter-patter of jogging feet met her ears, just as a horrible feeling caught up with her. It was an unnatural sensation, something she had never felt before: a warning. Her instinct was to run, but by the time she had made up her mind to flee, it was already too late. Ari heard someone running towards her and watched as they quickly overtook her, so that they were soon in front. There was no way of outrunning them; she was completely surrounded.
“I have an exam tomorrow,” Ari said out loud to the three guys who faced her, “and my boyfriend is waiting for me just over there in his car, so I better hurry.”
She had hoped that lying about having a boyfriend close by might disparage the guy’s attentions. Almost instantly she realised how wrong she was. At first no one answered her, so she continued to stare up at the heavily shadowed faces, until she realised that they had begun reducing the size of the circle they had formed around her; like sharks around prey the group inched closer. Now, only feet away from her pursuers, Ari was able to make out certain features that had been obscured before by the darkness. They were all young guys, around her age, and judging by their build, looked as if they belonged to a football club or equivalent. Ari grimaced as they leered at her, wobbling slightly on their feet and giving off the strong smell of alcohol and stale tobacco. That explained the slurring; they were drunk.
“Well nice meeting-” Ari began before she felt someone behind her cup their hands over her mouth.
Alarm bells were ringing as Ari began to kick out hard at the boys who faced her while flinging her arms in the air, desperate to get away. The fear that rushed at her was like nothing she had ever experienced before, while plan after plan of escape and self-defence flashed in her mind. Before she knew it, a large sweaty hand covered her mouth, while hands belonging to the others fought to restrain her. Her eyes were wide and wild and her heart was racing in her chest. Wisps of hair clung to her face, transforming her normally innocent disposition into a frenzied one.
“-Stop,” she screamed after biting down on one of her attacker’s hands that had been covering her mouth.
Almost as soon as she had cried out however she was silenced, when a hard hand slapped her in the face instantly stifling her plea. Two fearful eyes stared back at the boy and she tasted his salty coppery blood on her lips, from where she had bitten him. She thought again of screaming, but anticipating this one of the boys had gagged her, forcing some sort of rag into her mouth and tying it tight behind her head. Horrid retched thoughts were screaming at her, warning her what would be coming next and she jerked and fought as best she could until hands began grabbing every inch of her, grasping her hard as they tried to keep her still. Suddenly she was jolted backwards and she felt herself being dragged off the footpath and into the surrounding conifer and bamboo forest. Staring up at the nights sky, Ari felt her eyes well with tears as the realisation of her situation settled in the pit of her stomach.
“Looks like we got ourselves a fighter,” one of the boys said and all around her there were jeers and laughter.
Ari was absolutely terrified, more so than any other moment in her life. She looked up at the boy who clasped her ankles and kicked out against him in vain. He was tall, with a strong jaw and black hooded jumper that read ‘UB Sports’. Silent tears had spilled out of her eyes and were rolling down her face when he leant down to her and tore her shirt open. She tried desperately to cling at her top and cover herself, but both her hands were being restrained by two others on either side of her. Still laughing, the black hooded boy removed the rag in her mouth and tried to kiss her. Instantly she clenched her jaw shut grinding her teeth together, desperate to ward off his affections. In response a sharp pain shot through her mouth and she felt two powerful hands clasping hard at her face, forcing her to relinquish her resistance. Slowly her mouth was wedged open and Ari jerked for a moment until the pain was unbearable, and she surrendered. As soon as her lips parted he kissed her roughly and she sobbed hard at the feeling of his slimy tongue jabbing every inch of her mouth. The taste of him made her sick and she fought against the bile that was threatening to surge upwards, as she tried to bite down and end the kiss. The moment she tried this two fingers pushed against her jaw, locking it open, forcing her to endure it.
The moment he released her, Ari slumped backwards and instantly felt someone behind her cupped their hands over her mouth, silencing her. At the same time the two next to her holding her arms pushed her up so that she was kneeling. Her knees dug painfully into the hard dirt; small pinecones stuck into her skin as she was forced further down.
“Hmm,” the black hooded boy said as he began unbuckling his belt, “pull her head back.”
Instantly Ari’s hair was pulled tight, forcing her head all the way back to stare at the boy directly behind her. He was the largest of the four and wore the same jumper. His dark beady eyes were staring transfixed at Ari and Ari returned his stare; her eyes plastered in fear, as a crocked ruthless smile spread across his face.
“I’m first,” said the boy with the black hoody.
Ari felt the two boys that were holding her hands tighten their grip in anticipation. Her eyes shut instantly, forcing a tear out, and she held her breath waiting while a rush of shivers swept over her, making her tremble. Her mind was too panicked to do anything other than scream useless insults at her attackers which were muffled by the hand that spread across her face. Every muscle in her body was tensed, preparing to fight, but she was too well restrained, all she could do was jerk insignificantly, while her capturers tightened their grip.
Suddenly, and without warning, she was flung forwards. Her hair was momentarily pulled tight, as the two boys that were holding her relinquished their grips. Face down on the forest floor she knew that something had gone wrong. One of the boys was screaming; their high pitched yelps broke the stillness of the night, bringing even more terror into the forest. Ari whirled around quickly and saw a stranger, shrouded by shadows, who was breaking the necks of the two that had restrained her. They fell to the ground quickly, like marionettes whose strings had been cut. Next he moved over to the boy who had held her hair and instantly the boy began to flee. The stranger watched this, his head cocked to one side as the boy scrambled to escape. For a moment Ari thought that the boy with the crocked smile would get away. Then, impossibly fast, the stranger caught up to him. Clasping onto the hood of his jumper, he pulled the boy so that he fell backwards and a loud cracking noise reverberated through the forest. Chancing a glance, Ari looked at the broken body of the third boy on the floor. He had fallen oddly, his torso and legs bent in opposite angles, so that he lied contorted, just like his crocked smile. Somehow she knew from his motionless form that he was dead also. The last boy was cowering near Ari on the forest floor, praying or whispering something that she couldn’t hear.
The night was so dark that until now, Ari had not been able to see anything of the stranger who had rescued her, just a dark frame. Now as he walked towards her, she found herself breathless.
“Please no,” the boy in the black hoody mumbled at his approach.
The stranger smiled and his face was suddenly lit by the small moon, whose long rays shone down to reveal just how handsome he was. Still in shock, all Ari registered of the man were his large green eyes, which were now fixed hungrily on his prey. From where she still lay crumpled on the forest floor, Ari stared up at the stranger unblinking. His intense jade eyes captured her attention entirely, and though her head was screaming for her to run, she could not. Taking a few more steps forwards, the stranger stood directly in front of the crouching boy. The boy was trembling staring transfixed at the ground; he was clearly too afraid to run or scream and unable to look up. If he had of, then the boy in the black hoody would have been horrified to see two large, white fangs protrude from the mouth of the man. Ari however had seen this and gasped out loud when a beam of moonlight fell on the stranger’s fangs. All Ari could do was watch mesmerised. The fangs were nearly twice the size of normal canines with sharp pointed ends and reminded her of a cat, like a cheetah or lion.
A last attempt of fleeing crossed the boy’s mind, as he glanced from side to side but it was quickly brushed aside. Only his eyes told the story of his fear; everything else waited patiently. The boy never screamed, not even after the stranger dragged him to his feet by the throat and then stared at him with such furious hatred. Ari watched in horror as the boy’s head was forced to one side, exposing his neck. For a few moments he continued to dangle and Ari felt her hands reach out behind her as she inched away. The next instant the stranger struck at him and large white fangs united with mortal flesh, in a horrifying union. Still holding onto his prey, the stranger did not release the boy right away, but continued to lash at his throat viciously, almost hungrily. Blood from the boy’s jugular gurgled for a moment from the gaping hole, staining the forest floor, and a second later the body of the last boy fell unmercifully to the ground as a last, dying gasp escaped him. Ari looked at the boy’s frozen face ; his eyes were still wide open, although his pupils were fixed and dilated, as if his last moments of life had been disbelief and sheer terror.
It took a few moments for reality to catch up with her. As it did, she stared around at the bodies scattered throughout the forest floor. Mirroring Ari, the stranger stood for a moment also conveying the scene. The way that the stranger seemed to search the area with his eyes made Ari think that he was checking to make sure they were alone.
“Are you alright?” He asked not turning to face her, but still surveying for any witnesses.
To her surprise his voice was kind and when Ari didn’t answer right away, he quickly looked at her then reached out a pale hand. Ari blinked up at him from where she still sat on the forest floor. For a moment all manner of thoughts rushed at her head, until everything became too much and she fainted.
It was several hours before Ari woke again. At first she stirred, as if waking from a bad dream, but then she sat up quickly, the blood rushing to her head as her hands traced the cold stone bench she had been lying on. A sudden throbbing pain coming from her head made her reach up and she felt swelling across her cheek just as the few hours of her life flashed back fragmented, like a silent movie. Flashes of boys leering at her came to her, but she had no memory of how she had gotten here. A slow shiver ran down her and she realised that she was wearing a thin white dress that she did not own. Moving to the edge of the bench, she slipped down off it and instantly her bare feet met cold stone. Where had her shoes gone? Her eyes tried to adapt to the darkness, but there was not enough light, so she stared into nothingness, blinking dumbly.
“Hello,” she called out and the soft echo of her call bounced off the thick stone walls of the room she was in, reverberating for a moment until it faded.
There was no reply and she was just about to call again when suddenly there was a loud clicking noise, and what sounded like two pieces of wood scrapping against each other. A squeaking sound signified a rusty door swinging open and Ari glanced around wildly.
“You are awake,” someone said.
Looking into the distance, Ari saw the outline of a man walking towards her. There was a candle in his hands, which lit a small brick room with a warm orange glow. The stonework was pale, with moss creeping from the cracks. The room was circular, no bigger than 10 feet squared, with only a small window and a large wooden door adorning it. In fact, aside from the stone bench she had laid on, the only other thing in the room was a small glass-top table. The dismal warmth that the candle brought was by no means enough to outweigh the damp, dank feeling infused by the ancient stone room. There was a sense of decay that gave it the overwhelming feeling of loss. Suddenly the light from the candle highlighted the man’s features. The fiery gold of the flame seemed to mix with the green of his eyes, leaving Ari feeling as though she were staring at endless rolling hills, behind which the sun was setting. The recent trauma still restricted part of her memory and she stared up at the gorgeous stranger, desperate to remember anything that preceded her being in this room.
The man looked to be in his late twenties; he had dark unkempt hair covering his forehead and reaching a few inches above his shoulder. His top eyelids were darkened, enhancing his long eyelashes, and augmenting his emerald eyes. As he moved closer to Ari, she became more bedazzled. His oval face, full lips, and strong jaw had captured her attention entirely, and though her head was screaming for her to run, she could not.
“Are you ok?” The stranger asked again, this time looking at Ari with what might have been concern, although she was not certain.
“Where am I?” Ari asked, her voice rasping. The stranger moved to answer her, but Ari had interrupted him before he could begin. “And what am I wearing?” She asked.
Immediately he looked down at the ground embarrassed, but not before tracing the white dress he must have clothed her in hours before.
Digging his feet into the ground and shifting his weight he mumbled, “Your clothes were torn and bloody…”
He didn’t make eye contact with her, but continued to search for a way to explain his reasoning, hoping that she might understand.
“What happened to my bag… my phone… my shoes?” Ari asked, realizing that all of her possessions were missing.
“You dropped them at the Uni,” he replied not making eye contact, but rather glancing around the room nervously so that instantly Ari thought he was being untruthful.
“Oh, right,” Ari said hoping to keep her voice steady, while trying to recall more of last night’s events without alerting this man to her true fears.
The moment Ari locked eyes with him a sudden tug at her mind had her recalling some of the events from the previous night. She saw the boys attacking her and recalled the way a stranger had rescued her. Her eyes widened when she realised the man standing before her now had saved her. On her lips were the words ‘thank you’, but as the events from the night continued to flood her memory, she recalled the boys at the Uni who had attacked her. A large shiver ran up her back and settled in her arms.
“And those guys…” Ari began, too afraid to finish the sentence that her head was screaming for her to ask.
At her words the stranger pulled his gaze back to the ground. His hands were suddenly bawled into fists, and his eyes narrowed, giving his thoughts the appearance of molten and fire. Looking at him, Ari was terrified. Instantly she thought that he might attack her and so she stood perfectly still, holding her breath in anticipation. In response he shook his head once, shifting his weight nervously.
“It’s ok. They won’t be able to hurt you again,” he said, moving still closer to Ari. “They won’t be able to hurt anyone else, ever again.”
This close, Ari could make out the stubble that lined her rescuer’s face. She breathed in deeply, inhaling the damp smell of the room. Suddenly, new memories from last night came flooding back. Ari pictured the four boys slowly closing in on her.
What had happened next? She tried desperately to remember how she had ended up here.
“Why did they attack me?” Ari asked, backing away from the stranger slowly.
Perhaps if she had of been in a normal frame of mind then she would have known that her rescuer could not know the answer to this question. But she was not in a normal frame of mind; she was strife with shock and she stared at him, desperate for an explanation as to why this had happened to her. He was close enough now that Ari could see the sad look in his eyes. It gave him an almost a puppy dog appearance, as though he were at the pound hoping to be adopted.
“They were monsters,” he said simply.
Ari watched his lips as he spoke. There was something unnerving about his mouth; something that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. The word monster too had stirred something in her memory but she couldn’t place her finger on it.
“What the hell are you?” Ari asked moving back towards the edge of the room so that she was pressed up against the brick wall.
It was as if a veil had lifted and the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. Ari recalled the man standing before her rescuing her from the boys that had attacked her last night. How he had moved faster than any man possibly could. How he had broken bones as if they were twigs from a branch. How there had been fangs from where his canines should be. How he had reached down to the boy who had almost raped her and bit him; how he had drunk his blood.
A deep low sigh escaped the man in response and he moved away from Ari and sat on the floor near the door, putting as much space as possible between them. Had Ari thought his eyes had been sad before, then that was nothing to how they looked now. But she shouldn’t feel sorry for him; she should feel afraid, terrified: bloody freaking horrified.
Wincing without making eye contact he asked, “Can you not guess?”
Guess? What was this a game? How the hell was she supposed to know what he was? This whole situation felt make believe. Perhaps she was going insane? Maybe she had had some sort of psychotic break, brought on by her attack?
Desperate to cling onto anything that made sense, Ari put her hands over her ears and rocked back and forth on the spot. She was humming a little to herself, trying to cling onto something that felt real. She forced herself to remember something true, anything that was factual; her first time driving a car, the moment she realised she had been accepted into Vet, her first kiss. All of these thoughts rang through her head, as if she were watching an abridged version of her life on fast forward. From the firmness of her memories one thought leaked through, bringing even more confusion; her favourite book Dracula. But that was impossible; it was a story. Without having any parents, she had learnt early on that things like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were make believe. But she had seen this, seen his fangs. Perhaps they were fake; Prosthetics? But no, it wasn’t just that! He had moved too fast, been too strong.
The only thing that made sense bought another wave of shivers over Ari and an odd smile smeared across her face, giving her the appearance of a deranged person. “Vampire,” she whispered.
He nodded once saying, “I am sorry.”
“But you saved me!” Ari yelled, trying to make sense of his apology. “You can’t be-”
Her words were cut off almost instantly when the man stood quickly and blurred over to her. Her hair rushed across her face at his approach and her eyes bulged. He was leering down at her, an inch away from her face and then he showed her his fangs. A whimper escaped Ari’s throat and she closed her eyes until a hand grasped her elbow.
“You see what I am,” he whispered breathing heavily as he shook her slightly.
Still Ari kept her eyes closed as a silent tear slipped from underneath her eyelids.
“Look at me,” the man said and Ari forced her eyes open revealing watery eyelashes, as one green and one blue eye stared back in horror at the vampire.
“Please,” she mumbled, uncertain of what to say. “Please just let me go.”
“I can’t. You know what I am and you will not be safe with that secret,” he responded, releasing his grip on her so that she fell to the ground.
“I won’t tell anyone…” Ari began, moving cautiously away from him.
“Have you not seen?” he said, moving again to her so quickly that she cried out in fear. “Do you think I wanted it to be like this?”
At these words Ari steadied her breathing and stared up at him.
“Others will find you and they will kill you for knowing my secret. Vampirism is a lonely path, but it is kept this way so that mortals do not know of us,” he said.
“I can’t stay here!” Ari said in a low and cautious voice.
She had an exam tomorrow and, more importantly, an entirely normal life that she had to return to.
Seeming to realise himself, the man moved away from Ari and back towards the door, shaking his head as he did so. When he turned to face Ariana, his face was emotionless. “I can’t risk her finding-” he began but stopped himself quickly, temporarily looking away, as if angry. “My name is Ragon and I will try my best to look after you.”