“We weren’t lying about the cancer. We were all in the same ward, dying a slow death. There seemed to be no hope for us and then one day we were told that there was a special treatment. We were all surprised because we thought that we’d exhausted all our options, and by this point we were willing to try anything. We met with…a representative and they explained everything. I was surprised at how open they were, actually, but they said that nobody would believe us if we told the truth, and that if we didn’t accept the treatment we wouldn’t be able to tell anyone anyway. It was harsh, but true. All we had to do was give ourselves, become vampires, and we’d be cured. We would have a place at the academy for as long as we wanted and we would be alive. I don’t think any of us hesitated for long. Maybe Adam was the longest. It seemed like a no brainer. But I didn’t realize how much we were giving up. Ever since then, I have to wonder if I’m the same person I was. If I really saved myself or just brought some new life into existence? When we changed I’d forgotten what it was like to feel healthy all the time. Sure, we couldn’t go out in sunlight and things like that, but at least we were alive. We celebrated when we lived past the point at which we had been told we were going to die. We were given a chance at a new life, and I know you probably think I’m a monster, but are you going to tell me that you wouldn’t have chosen the same fate?”
I listened to what he had to say and couldn’t say that I wouldn’t have. It was similar to the conversation I’d had with Julia. If they hadn’t been turned into vampires, Josh and the others would have died. I’d always thought of vampirism as an evil thing, but in this way it could save people as well.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But surely it’s evil? What do you do when you need to feed?” I asked, almost afraid of the answer.
“We don’t feed on people if that’s what you’re afraid of. We have animal blood. I’d never want to turn anyone or anything like that. We just wanted to live, that’s all, and when we met you we realized that something special had happened.”
“Wait…” I asked, suddenly thinking of something, “when Adam told me that he’d hurt someone he cared about…?”
I trailed off. Josh licked his lips. “When we first shifted it was different. We weren’t used to how things worked. There was a girl in the ward with us. She and Adam were close, but she didn’t want the same treatment. She had made peace with the fact that she was going to die and wasn’t going to fight what she saw as the plan for her. Adam couldn’t understand how anyone could give up on life that easily and she explained it by saying that every flower had to wilt. That’s why he’s so interested in botany, because she was. He was convinced that if she could just see what was happening with us she would change her mind and they could be together forever, so after we had been transformed he went back to see her and he told her what had happened. He told her everything, but it didn’t go as he planned. She was terrified and screamed. He tried to hold her down, but he was stronger than before and he didn’t realize it yet. Bones cracked and she just managed to push him away. She told him never to come near her again. He never got to say goodbye.”
“That’s awful,” I said, my heart broke for Adam all over again.
“Yes. We decided that it would be better if we didn’t involve ourselves with normal people again, not in that way, not with anyone who wouldn’t understand. You seemed different though. I’m not even sure why.”
“So then why did you change your mind? Why did you pull away today? Friday was amazing. I thought we all had a good time and it was going to be the beginning of something new. I was really looking forward to coming back here and talking about where the four of us were going. Instead I was told the complete opposite. What happened over the weekend?”
Josh sighed. “I wouldn’t ordinarily tell you this, but you’re special and you deserve an explanation. The ones who turned us…they forbade us from entering into a union with you. It breaks their rules and as much as I’d love to turn away from them I can’t. None of us can. I’m sorry. I know you probably don’t understand how it works and I hope you can appreciate me being honest with you.”
“I do,” I said, thoughts churning around in my mind. “But when you say that your master wouldn’t let you? Does that mean they’re at the academy too?”
“I’m not supposed to talk about it,” he said. “I’m not supposed to talk about this at all.”
“Please Josh. I think I deserve to know if people in the academy are vampires. I already know it has to be someone because you never go anywhere else, and I’m not going to feel safe if I have to be suspicious of everyone. I won’t tell anyone. I promise,” I lied. Despite my personal feelings for Josh I had to seize this opportunity. These people had to be the masters in the area, the ones I had been longing to find, and now I finally had a way to get close to them.
“It’s the three of them. Mrs. Thorpe, Mr. Griff, and Mr. Hanon. That’s why the academy is so different from every other school. It can afford to be. They don’t turn everyone, and I’ll always be grateful to them because they saved me. I hope you can understand that.”
“You should leave them,” I said.
“I can’t. It’s too hard. I owe them my life.”
“But what kind of life are you living now? You don’t get to do what you want. You talked to me about your dreams and ambitions. What did you want to be before you were changed?”
“I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to travel the world and write about everything I experienced.”
“Then do that! Leave. You were given a chance at life, it’s not fair that it’s been taken from you. Are you planning to stay at the Academy forever?”
Josh fell silent.
“You can make all the excuses for them that you want, but when it comes down to it, if they’re not willing to give you your freedom, then how much have they really saved you? It’s not fair to any of you to keep you like this. They’re just collecting you Josh. You need to fight back.”
Josh’s face hardened. He folded his arms across his chest defensively.
“You don’t understand,” he said. I could tell that I wasn’t going to get through to him now. Arthur had told me all about this, how vampires manipulated people they turned and made them dependent. It wasn’t Josh’s fault, or any of the others. If I was terminally ill I’d probably cling to whatever thread was dangled in front of me to stay alive, as well, and although they were vampires they weren’t evil. But it didn’t mean that their masters weren’t. I knew I had sensed a strange feeling when I had been interviewed with them, and I was annoyed with myself that I had been so close to them, without being aware of them. But that was ho
w good these experienced vampires were and it showed exactly what the Slayers were up against.
“Just think about it, please.” I said, hoping that somehow they would be able to break free of the programming. I didn’t want to have to fight them if they came to the defense of their masters.
“So how did you know that I was a vampire?” Josh asked. “I’ve told you everything. You can at least tell me that. It shouldn’t have been that obvious.”
This was the moment of truth. I knew that telling him I was a Slayer might make him warn his masters, but I couldn’t lie to him. He had saved me at risk to himself, and he had told me the truth. I couldn’t see him as the enemy even though he was a vampire. I still cared for him deeply, and I felt an intense flush by being near him. Surprisingly, learning that I’d enjoyed an erotic and sensual experience with a vampire didn’t scare me and I did start to wonder if there weren’t more shades of grey to life than I had previously imagined.
“I want you to keep this a secret Josh. I’m a Slayer.”
His face was pale already, but as I mentioned that word his flesh whitened even more and he backed away.