The creature’s razor sharp incisors, curved like scimitar blades, easily sunk into the flesh of Hiram’s neck without waking him. Only the happenstance screech of a passing owl caused Hiram’s eyes to flutter.
At first, Hiram didn’t know why the room was so dark. Then he realized the creature was bent over him. In a panic, Hiram’s fist came up holding the wooden dagger he slept with. The vampire hardly had time to react before the stake plunged into its heart.
In agony, it bit down hard on Hiram’s throat, desperately sucking at Hiram’s life force, trying to keep itself alive against the wooden stake through its demonic heart.
Hiram tried to push it off, but the inhumanly strong creature held him pinned to the bed, still suckling his throat, while trying to pull the dagger from its own chest with one hand.
Unable to move, feeling his life being leeched away, Hiram did the only thing he could think of.
He bit the vampire’s neck.
The nasty ichor that flowed into Hiram’s mouth was too thick and cold to be blood, but it had power. So much power!
He could feel it replacing the life force the vampire was stealing. It was making him stronger— and the vampire weaker.
Hiram surged with strength and tossed the foul creature off himself.
Deprived of the energy it had been siphoning away from Hiram, it slumped to the floor, clawing weakly at the stake in its chest. In moments it was still.
Then the body turned to ash and swirled away in the light breeze from the window, dissipating into the night.
Panting, Hiram fell back onto his pillow, blood from his neck staining the linens.
The Innkeeper burst open the door to Hiram’s room and rushed in wielding a hand axe. “What the bloody hell is going on in here?”
“I got it,” Hiram said breathily, grinning up at him. “I killed the vampire.”
“What?” Hiram was stunned. The blood on the bandage on his neck wasn’t even dry yet as the mayor stubbornly stood and faced him. “We had an agreement. You owe me five hundred crowns.”
“There is no proof you did anything but bled on the sheets and made a big ruckus. No proof, no payment.”
“But I spent two weeks and a dozen crowns just to get here. At your request!”
“And you’ll spend five more to pay for the damage you’ve done.” The squat man made a disgusted face before turning and marching away.
“You’ll see! The attacks are over!” Hiram called at the mayor’s back. “And then you’ll pay me!”
Muttering from the people gathered in the inn to eat breakfast resumed as they realized there was nothing more to be heard.
Hiram, appetite lost, left his food uneaten.
Walking behind the old mill, Hiram did his best to control his rage. The mayor would come around. When people saw that the attacks had stopped, they would demand Hiram received fair payment.
He kicked a rock and sent it tumbling into the stream that fed the giant waterwheel turning the millstone. The reflection of the sun off the water hurt Hiram’s eyes and gave him a headache. Somewhere a cooking fire was roasting meat and the smoky smell drifted to him, turning his stomach and making him dizzy.
Hiram sat in the shade of a big tree to rest and let the illness pass. He was nearly asleep when he heard the cry for help.
Jumping to his feet and plowing through the tall wheat field surrounding the mill, he raced towards the pleading woman’s voice. He spotted something over the top of the stalks but couldn’t make it out until he was upon it.
A closed carriage had overturned on the road, the horse long gone, and the cries, growing weaker, came from within.
As he approached, Hiram became aware of the overpowering scent of blood.
His stomach twisted with hunger and he was salivating by the time he reached the carriage. The driver lay in the ditch, unmoving. Hiram left him be and climbed atop the carriage, looking down upon the two figures inside: a woman and a man.
The woman was covered in blood and the man was unmoving.
With strength he didn’t know he had, Hiram reached in and pulled the woman out by her arms just as she lost consciousness. He carried her off the dirt roadway and lay her gently in the grass, the smell of blood filling his nostrils and threatening to overwhelm his senses.
She gasped, eyes fluttering, convulsed once, and lie still.
An ethereal presence lifted from her body, hovering in front of Hiram. He reached out to touch it and felt the power, the energy of her soul course through him.
Reflexively, in a way he didn’t understand and couldn’t stop, he pulled her soul into himself and absorbed its strength. The warmth flowed through him, nourishing and lifting him.
He stood, stronger than he had ever felt before.
And swore under his breath.
He had become a vampire.
The creature he had come to destroy had passed its curse on to him.
Even as the thought crossed his mind, he realized how blazingly hot the sun had become. It was nearly unbearable on his skin and to his eyes. It weakened him, stealing the energy he had just gotten from the woman’s soul.
Hiram turned at the voice.
The mayor, climbing out of the wrecked carriage had stopped to point an accusing finger. “You did this! You did this to get revenge upon me!”
Voices and shouts took up as a group of men came around the bend in the road and saw the accident. They broke into a run as they approached.
“Seize him!” the mayor shouted. “He did this! He killed them and he tried to kill me!”
Hiram tried to run, but his strength was gone. The sun had beaten it out of him.
The lynch mob’s rope tightened around Hiram’s throat as they threw the other end over the largest branch of the gallows tree. He was too weak to resist, but the shade of the tree was a blessing after the burning sun.
In the distance, beyond the gathered crowd, a strange movement, like swirling fog, caught his attention.
His hunger rose before he even recognized the sea of souls drifting above the graveyard, not more than a half-mile away. If only he could get there, he would have the strength to fight back.
The noose pulled tight and Hiram’s feet lifted off the ground. He kicked and struggled, his airway cut off, his neck stretched, but he couldn’t get free.
He waited for the blackness of death to welcome him.
It didn’t come.
When he realized why, he almost laughed. But he didn’t.
All he had to do was hold still, hang here and wait until they cut him down, sure he was dead, and he would be free.
And then he would make it to that graveyard and he would have all the power he would ever need.
And the first thing he would do would be to kill that damned mayor.